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Spagnola: On The Way To Picking Off History


ARLINGTON, Texas – Phenomenal. That's all I've got to say about this.

And not necessarily about the Cowboys' 44-20 trouncing of the New York Football Giants on a late Sunday afternoon, pushing their record to 4-1, 2-0 in the NFC East with a two-game lead after just five weeks.

Not necessarily that the Cowboys have now scored 40 points for the second time and at least 36 in the past three of this four-game winning streak, their first since Games 9-13 in the 2018 season, and are averaging 34 points a game.

Not necessarily because the Cowboys threw down 515 total yards in this game before 93,476, ecstatically flag-waiving fans at AT&T Stadium, the second-most yards ever in the 62-season history of playing the Giants. Or the fact they rushed for 201 yards, the second consecutive game they reached 200. Or that Ezekiel Elliott went for 110 of those yards rushing and a touchdown along with catching a 2-yard scoring pass that saw him knife his way into the front corner of the end zone, only a pylon camera momentarily stopping him.

Or that Dak Prescott, 364 days removed from last year's gruesome ankle injury, showed the Giants (1-4) who's the boss by throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns – one a 49-yarder to CeeDee Lamb –and now has seven TD passes in the past two games.

Or this improving defense forcing multiple takeaways in nine straight games, five of those this season.

And to show this is an equal-opportunity assessment, not even Giants rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney, who ripped the Cowboys for 189 yards receiving on 10 catches, only getting ejected in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch stopping him, finishing with big plays of 38, 36, 28 and 26 yards.

Or the fact that the 4-1 Cowboys just might be heading to New England this coming Sunday as favorites to beat the 2-3 Patriots for the first time since the mid-1990s. Dallas beat the Patriots the first seven times the two franchises played from 1971-1996, but have now lost to them the past six times they've met.

Oh no, not on this day. None of that.

Phenomenal is now the only absolute adjective to describe Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys' second-year cornerback who continues to amaze with his ability to track passes, intercept passes and nearly intercept passes.

Listen up.

"I was standing there with Dak and I'll use his word – 'I've never seen anything like it,'" Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said of what his quarterback told him. "The ball goes up in the air and he's coming down with it. I don't even think it's a 50/50 ball anymore."

"That kid is a baller," Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said, "and it just astounds me how he goes and gets it every single day."

And then this from Lamb, who wasn't too shabby himself, four catches for 84 yards and that 49-yard touchdown grab, "Tre has consistently proven himself week in and week out. It's a sight to see. We kind of expect it out of him, and if it don't happen, he's human. If it continues to happen, it's just like, wow, bro, you could really take off with this."

My goodness has he "taken off," not only intercepting yet another pass, but nearly picking off two more, landing out of bounds on one and just missing hanging on to another.

So, to understand the phenomena Diggs has become, picking off his sixth pass of this 2021 season in the first five games, let history speak for itself.

Diggs has now intercepted a pass in each of the first five games, the first Cowboys player to do so in 61 seasons, the last the late Don Bishop in 1961.

Diggs has become only the fourth player since the NFL merger to grab six interceptions in the first five games, Marcus Peters the most recent in 2016.

Diggs has become the first Cowboys player to intercept six passes in a season since Anthony Henry had six in 2007, Brock Marion and Larry Brown six each in 1995, Kevin Smith in 1993 and Michael Downs in 1986.

That's right, not since Everson Walls had nine interceptions in 1985 has a Cowboys player had more than six interceptions since. And to think, Diggs still has another 12 games to go.

And here is looking at you, "Cubby." As we've come to know, it was Walls who set the Cowboys' single-season interception record in 1981, an undrafted rookie from Grambling State with 11, also the NFL rookie record.

But here is the most amazing number of all Diggs is threatening: No NFL player since Walls' 11 interceptions in 1981 has intercepted more than 10 passes in a single season in the last 40 years. None. Not a one. Not the likes of Deion Sanders (7). Not Champ Bailey (10). Not Ty Law (10). Not Ronnie Lott (10). Not Charles Woodson (9). Not Rod Woodson (8).

And guess what? All those guys are Pro Football Hall of Famers. Except for Walls. Maybe Diggs is helping his case.

And now this Diggs. He has six in the first five games. Let that sink in. That means he only needs six more in the final 12 games to become the first NFL player with more single-season picks since Walls' 11. And you must go back one year from that to 1980 to find more, Lester Hayes with 13.

When asking Walls last night what he thought of Diggs' interception of Mike Glennon's pass, he said, "Looked just like me," though 40 years later.

This pick to me was most amazing, since it appeared the Giants C.J. Board had beaten him on a deep post. But Diggs not only ran him down, but with long arms outreached Board, going up higher and just in front to not only come down with the ball at the Cowboys' 23-yard line, but then weave his way 18 yards back up field to the 41, setting up Greg Zuerlein's eventual 38-yard field goal for a 27-13 Cowboys lead.

"I think they were in 12 (personnel)," Diggs said of a two-tight end set. "When they get in formation like that, it's more so play-action, back-to-back deeper routes against max protect. … I read my keys, saw he ran the post route and made a play on the ball. I saw the quarterback throw it.

"From there, I could judge where the ball was going to be, where the ball would be placed, so I just made a play on the ball."

Simple, right?

Ha, you try running full speed and tracking down a ball thrown 52 yards in the air when another guy shoulder to shoulder with you is battling for the ball, too.

Not only does Diggs have six interceptions in five games, doubling his rookie total in 2020, but one of those three interceptions from last year came in Game 15. That means he has seven interceptions in his last seven games, a one-a-game pace. And to think this is a 17-game season.

"Honestly, I'm just taking it one game at a time," Diggs said. "I've got my goals at the end of the day, but I'm really focused on taking it one game at a time. Just trying to dominate – dominate everyone that comes in front of me. That's the main goal. If I keep doing that, step-by-step, the sky's the limit. I don't know where I can go."

Well, that sky is starting to grow closer, game by game, but the best part of Diggs' streak would be his even-keel nature, not worrying about any sort of record or any of these _first since_ historical markers we are caught up talking about.

"I'm try not trying to chase anything," Diggs said, with the exceptions of wide receivers he keeps tracking down. "I just take what they give me. I play how I play. If I read my keys and do what I'm supposed to do, it's going to take care of itself."

And so far, this Diggs is taking care of a whole lot.

Pretty phenomenal is all I've got to say.

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