Talk about redemption.
DeMarcus Lawrence went from goat to hero within a matter of eight plays, fumbling a fumble that would have ended the game to delivering a strip-sack that ended the game.
“I know my team believed in me and I had to go back out there and make something happen,” Lawrence said. “It was a heck of a sack. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Lawrence’s first career sack served as the exclamation point in the Cowboys’ 24-20 victory over the Lions in the wild-card round on Sunday, a game in which the defense once again stepped up.
The defense contained Calvin Johnson for the most part, and only gave up only one big play on a 51-yard touchdown pass-and-catch from Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate in the first quarter.
More importantly, though, was the defense’s ability to overcome adversity throughout the game. They responded when things didn’t go their way, ranging from special teams penalties to starting linebacker Rolando McClain missing the second half with an injury (illness/dehydration).
“It just shows the volume of how this defense has grown,” safety Barry Church said. “Last year, with plays like that, we would’ve folded the tent and they would’ve ended up going up by two touchdowns, three touchdowns, four touchdowns.
“But everybody on our defensive side has the same mentality and that is to fight.”
The defense, after giving up the long touchdown to Tate on the opening drive, seemed to make a stand on the next series with the Lions pinned back on their 1. The Cowboys forced a three-and-out and had the Lions punting out of their own end zone.
However, linebacker Dekoda Watson was called for running into the kicker on the punt, a penalty that kept Detroit’s drive alive. The Lions capitalized by driving the length of the field in 14 plays, taking a 14-0 lead on an 18-yard run by Reggie Bush.
The Lions didn’t score again until a field goal to end the first half.
In the second half, the Cowboys’ defense continued to rise to the occasion by allowing only a field goal. And the signature plays involved Lawrence, as the Lions needed to drive 77 yards in 2:32 to win.
Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer had a strip-sack of Stafford on the second play of the drive, and the ball bounced right to Lawrence. As he’d been taught to do, Lawrence tried to “scoop and score” but ended up fumbling the ball back to the Lions.
Lawrence, who has battled injuries and had made a minimal impact until Sunday as a rookie, didn’t use that as an excuse, saying he should have simply fallen on the ball and ended the game.
“With an opportunity like that you’ve got to know what type of situation you’re in,” Lawrence said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do, it’s just all about instincts and knowing there’s only two minutes on the clock and you need to stay down. It was a rookie mistake, but I learned from it a lot.”
There’s no question about that when he came through with the game-sealing sack eight plays later. Lawrence did a double-swipe move to get to Stafford and ended up becoming a redemption story on a day it looked like he could have been remembered as the second coming of Leon Lett’s infamous fumble in Super Bowl XXVII.
“For him to come back and make a play, I think we’re starting to see what we’ve got in this guy,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “He’s getting better every game.”
Added defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli: “That’s what really good pass rushers do, they affect the outcome of the game. He did that.”
At the end of the day, it was another solid day for this overachieving defense. Johnson was held to 85 yards on five catches after torching the Cowboys for 329 yards a season ago; Tate finished with 89 yards on six catches; and the Lions’ running game combined for 90 yards on 22 carries.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760