FRISCO, Texas – It's not often a storyline presents itself so obviously.
Robert Quinn returned from suspension last week, and he made his Dallas Cowboys debut in a game against the team that traded him to Texas, the Miami Dolphins. It was written up to be a storybook return for one of this defense's biggest pieces.
As it turns out, it unfolded exactly like a storybook, too. Quinn was arguably the Cowboys' best defender, finishing with three tackles, a sack and another quarterback hit. In a dominant second half, he helped the Cowboys' pass rush break out for three sacks.
"I thought he was really active and I thought he did a really good job and I thought his spirit was contagious throughout our team," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "I think everybody really felt it in a really positive way."
"Active" is a fantastic word to describe Quinn's game. As anyone who watched it could see, he was actively terrorizing Dolphins left tackle Michael Deiter, as he routinely raced around him to put pressure on Josh Rosen.
He was so good at it, it may have affected the way the Cowboys played him. Quinn played 45 of 72 defensive snaps, which was good enough for second on the team, trailing only DeMarcus Lawrence. Garrett said Monday afternoon the Cowboys monitored his condition during the game, but they didn't see any reason to reduce the workload.
"He probably played more than we initially anticipated," he said. "The biggest thing you try to do is you come up with a game plan but then you say let's watch him, let's just kind of keep an eye on him to see how he's doing. Do we stick with that plan? Can he do more? And at no point in the game did you think that he was not able to handle the work."
That's got to be good news for Quinn – who wasn't just suspended, but missed most of training camp with a broken hand. Following the game, he said his biggest concern was how well conditioned he was for the grind of live action.
"I felt good and I felt fresh," Quinn said. "Just a little concerned coming in on how my lungs were going to hold up. But as the game went on, I feel like I got stronger. I tried to do the best I could to help the team win."
It was a heck of a start for a guy who missed the last month. And it doesn't feel like a coincidence that the Cowboys' pass rush had its best afternoon with him in the lineup. In addition to his own sack, Quinn flushed Rosen forward in the pocket and helped Lawrence pick up a sack of his own.
For the game, the Cowboys' three sacks was more than they managed in the first two games combined. They sit at five on the year, with two talented offensive lines coming up next on the schedule.
But if that's what Quinn brought in his first game back, then hopefully this is a jumping off point for the Cowboys' pass rush. That's his plan, anyway.
"It's kind of what keeps me around and what keeps me having a job, so I'd better keep doing that," he said.