Micah Parsons, DaRon Bland do their thing (again) as Cowboys take care of Panthers

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Micah Parsons did not record a single statistic in 39 defensive snaps against the New York Giants last Sunday at AT&T Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys really didn’t need much from their elite pass rusher during a 49-17 blowout.

But Parsons, who finished runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year the previous two seasons, was motivated by questions last week about his lack of production in that game.

His response: 2 1/2 sacks, three QB hits and two tackles for loss in a 33-10 Cowboys win over the Carolina Panthers.

“I kind of like when people go against me a little bit,” Parsons said Sunday afternoon from the visiting locker room at Bank of America Stadium. “That always gets me a little bit more motivated. Teams are doing some unordinary things (to slow me down), and it kind of throws you off your game.”

Parsons looked like his old self early on, recording a sack on both of Carolina’s first two possessions as Dallas jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead.

He added another half sack early in the fourth quarter, combining with safety Jayron Kearse to bring down Panthers rookie QB Bryce Young, who was sacked seven times.

“It just shows they have to account for me,” Parsons said of the early sacks. “I know they were trying to do everything they can to slow me down. With me moving around and doing the things that I do, it definitely draws more attention. In the second half, there were a lot more double teams, a lot more chips and things like that.

“It’s just being impactful. That’s when everybody else eats, as we saw. I think when I do that, it just sets the tone for the game.”

The back end is an area where that impact has been felt.

Second-year cornerback DaRon Bland again capitalized in the secondary, intercepting his league-leading sixth pass of the season. After making the diving grab, a minute into the final quarter, Bland quickly got back on his feet and returned it 30 yards for his fourth pick six of the season, tying the NFL single-season record.

Bland said it was the best interception of his career, which is saying something considering he now has a league-best 11 since the start of last season.

“Having to actually make some moves, getting up like that,” Bland said. “You really don’t get a return like that.”

“It’s a great example of the details that he plays with, especially for a young corner,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “The shallow crossing route kind of drifted upfield a little bit. He cuts under it and takes a perfect angle and makes a huge play. I just can’t say enough about him. He’s done it since the first day. He played so well last year for us, and he’s having an incredible season.”

The combination of Parsons and Bland has worked well together, Parsons getting the pressure, Bland making quarterbacks pay for their mistakes. Both are only 24. While they are two of the most significant players on the current roster, they are also a pair of outstanding young pieces, to go along with CB Trevon Diggs, to build the defense around for many years to come.

“He’s having a Defensive Player of the Year-type year,” Parsons said of Bland. “He should be a lock for All-Pro. He’s on a remarkable, unbelievable run right now.”

Over the last four weeks, the Cowboys have averaged 37 points per game. Quarterback Dak Prescott and No. 1 wide receiver CeeDee Lamb have been in the zone since the team’s Week 5 loss at San Francisco. Prescott finished with only 189 yards passing against Carolina. Lamb totaled only 38 yards receiving. But they did some of their best work when they were needed most Sunday. After the Panthers climbed back to within 17-10 late in the third quarter, Prescott led an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive to answer. He connected with Lamb three times on the drive for 23 yards. Tony Pollard then finished things off with a physical 21-yard touchdown run.

McCarthy joked after the game that Prescott and Lamb didn’t put up some of the huge numbers they have in previous weeks because their equipment managers were running out of footballs from all the records the two have been setting.

“Got the job done,” Prescott said. “To say it was clean and to say that we did exactly what we wanted to do, I can’t say that. Got to go look at the film, but you’ll take the win any way we can get it. It was a good win. We’ve got to heighten the focus a little bit, I know, on our side of the ball.”

Parsons now has 10 sacks this season. He’s the first player in franchise history with 10 in each of his first three seasons. He is also the ninth NFL player since 1982 with 10 or more sacks in each of his first three seasons. He’s the first since Shawne Merriman (2005-07). Parsons believes 10 sacks in a season should be the minimum for an elite rusher. His goal this season is at least 16. He had a career-high 13 1/2 last year.

Parsons appeared to not be feeling well in the first half. He vomited twice. It was caused by taking some C4 protein energy powder.

“It’s something I’ve never done before,” he said. “I took the scope of C4 (dry). As soon as I took it, I was like ‘This is strong.’ I got some water to help put it down. By the fifth play my heart felt like it was about to jump out of my chest. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s still messing me up. I felt like CO2 was bottled up in my chest and I was about to explode. Eventually I just started throwing up. It was all coming out and I was like, ‘I’m never doing that s— again.’

“It’s supposed to get you hype. I definitely felt the difference, I just didn’t expect my heart to feel like that. … Maybe it was the amount that put me over. It was pretty intense.”

So even after 2 1/2 sacks he’s not taking it again?

“I might go half a scoop,” a laughing Parsons responded.

He insisted that Sunday’s performance was him just getting warmed up. His goal is to be one of the most outstanding players in Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day game against the division rival Washington Commanders.

“Two and a half sacks is great,” he said, “but I told (my teammates), I’m going for that turkey leg (on Thanksgiving Day).”

(Photo of Micah Parsons and Bryce Young: Eakin Howard / Getty Images)

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