NASHVILLE – Find a stat sheet, watch a crushing hit or see his teammates light up when his name gets mentioned, and it's not hard to tell how Rolando McClain's adjusted to his new start in Dallas.
Eventually, the questions about his desire and commitment will slowly dissipate with more performances like Sunday's, when McClain recorded an interception and a sack and led the Cowboys with seven combined tackles.
"I needed to take time to do what was important and get myself right," McClain said. "I got that right, and now I'm with a great organization, got some great teammates and I'm happy to be playing football again."
The Cowboys' defense held the Titans, who were 2-for-10 on third down, to just 10 points. McClain played a vital part in the defense making Titans quarterback Jake Locker uncomfortable all day.
The middle linebacker's third-down sack in the third quarter forced Tennessee to kick a field goal after crossing the Cowboys' 30-yard line. His game-sealing play was still to come a quarter later.
As the Titans were again driving into Cowboys territory, McClain saw a tipped pass from Henry Melton in the fourth quarter, dove and stuck his hand out as the ball was inches off the ground. The ball then popped back against his body and McClain juggled it as he went down, keeping the football off the grass the entire time as he sealed the pick.
"He's a big cat, but, he's agile on his feet," said Barry Church. "He made a heck of a play and stoned their momentum and ultimately led us to victory."
It seemed almost inconceivable that the ball stayed off the ground after Melton's tip. That's also what the officials thought initially, even though McClain knew he picked off the pass.
"I told one of the coaches, all those years of playing tight end at Alabama paid off," McClain said with a smile. "I knew it was an interception. Good play. Got to thank Henry Melton. He tipped the ball, luckily I was just there to make the play."
McClain wasn't touched, and he proceeded to get up and run 68 yards to the end zone, but the play was whistled dead after officials thought it fell incomplete.
They reversed the call to an interception after a review. But because of the whistle, the Cowboys had to take over back at their own 32-yard line, much to head coach Jason Garrett's chagrin.
"When you make a play on the ball, it's going to make a difference in the game," Garrett said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't officiated correctly. It should have been a touchdown, obviously. They blew the whistle too quickly. But I thought our defense responded well to get the ball there." [embedded_ad]
Those types of plays, including McClain's forceful tackles and an ability to play both the run and the pass, are helping him make his presence felt immediately. As Church said, the Cowboys' defense needed his physicality, which takes the intensity of the entire group up a notch.
After just two games with Dallas, it's no secret the kind of difference McClain's already made to a Cowboys defense that could use a jolt.
"A heck of a difference," Church said. "I tried to tell people in the offseason that. This guy's balling right now. He's able to just control that whole middle, take a lot of the tackles off of me and J.J. (Wilcox) back there, and we're able to just play the ball. We're able to just play coverage like safeties should. Him out there is just immense in helping us and making our job a lot easier."
His talent's never been a question, and even if he's not surprised by how he's played, McClain continues to impress those around him and make the devastating loss of Sean Lee more palatable.
"He's a physical football player, he's got really good instincts for the game and is very productive," Garrett said. "He plays with a demeanor and a spirit that you want. It's great to have that from a linebacker because it gets contagious really quickly. He's off to a good start."