IRVING -- Jay Ratliff left Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins because of a knee injury.
Did somebody fall on it, a reporter asked.
"About three somebodies," he said.
It didn't keep Ratliff out of the game for long. He's enjoying this season, and playing for new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, too much to stay away.
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"I'm not going to lie. This year, it's just been fun," the Dallas Cowboys' veteran nose tackle said Monday in the locker room at Valley Ranch, where he chatted with reporters about his season, playing for Ryan (who he said is head coaching material) and his own emerging role as a team leader.
"We've got the right group of guys, the right coaches," he said. "I think we're just meshing together really well and at the right time."
Despite the aching knee, Ratliff delivered four solo tackles in the Cowboys' 27-24 overtime victory against the Redskins, including two tackles for loss. On one play, he smashed former teammate Tashard Choice with a powerful tackle.
He smiled about the hit, the first time he was able to put a good shot on his good-natured former teammate.
"A lot of times, when he was here, we'd run up on him, and we never really followed through with a tackle," he said. "So this was the first time. It felt good."
The hit on Choice aside, it was one of Ratliff's most productive games, highlighting his first season into a five-year, $40 million contract extension.
Ratliff is 11th on the team with 27 tackles, and he has a sack, four tackles for loss, eight quarterback pressures and two pass blocks.
Nose tackle isn't a position for stats, but Ratliff feels productive because he believes in Ryan's messages to the team and to him about his versatility.
"One thing about this defense, there's a lot more freedom in it," Ratliff said. "I feel I fit well in it. We haven't quite done it yet, but I can play across the whole board if I'm needed to do that. It's just fun."
Ryan has talked about the value Ratliff brings to a defense because he's strong enough to be disruptive against the run, but also fast enough to be a pass rusher.
He said Ratliff makes him think of four-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Ted Washington, who played for Ryan with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns, except Ratliff is about 100 pounds lighter.
If that's the only difference between them, Ratliff is glad for the compliment.
"His first step was amazing," Ratliff said. "It rivals that of any great pass rusher or any speed guy. That's one thing that I did take from him. You look across the league at all these great nose tackles, and you can take something from each and every one of them. That's kind of what I try to do. ... I think that's one great thing about Rob. He puts guys in the right position to make plays."
Ratliff is convinced Ryan has head coaching potential in the NFL, thanks to his optimism and confidence in his players.
"It's just an honor to play for the guy. It's really fun," Ratliff said. "He listens to his players. If you've got input on a play or something like that, he'll stop, take time, listen to it, and if it fits the defensive scheme, he'll put it in. It's really a player-friendly defense. We're just happy to have him on board."
What makes Ryan a potential head coach? Ratliff said it's how he inspires players.
"Rob has a way of getting the most out of you, and it's not like he's demanding it all the time," he said. "It's just something about his personality that you want to give it to him. Sometimes, he'll get in the media and say something -- a little more than he wants to say. We don't mind it. We just want to make him right all the time."
Ratliff is also trying to get the most out of himself as a leader. After quarterback Tony Romo threw an interception against New England, Ratliff found him and encouraged him. Sunday against the Redskins, he was vocal on the sidelines and on the field.
"I really don't believe in pep talks," he said. "I truly just say what's in my heart, just talk about what needs to get done, get everybody to try to see that. We're fortunate to be playing this game. No matter how long your career is, it's a short window. So you want to try to make the most of it."
Still, Ratliff said he picks his spots before speaking.
"I don't believe in always trying to jump in front of Rob or anything like that," he said. "But when something needs to be said, I'll step in and say it.
"That's all there is to it. I'm not looking for any credit or glory for doing that. It's part of just helping the team win or if I see something that needs to be addressed."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407