Lightning-rod defensive end Michael Bennett was in the spotlight from the national anthem through the fourth quarter of the Dallas Cowboys’ 37-18 Monday night victory against the New York Giants, his first game with the team.
And his debut was equally philosophy-altering and bone-crushing.
It was exactly what the NFC East-leading Cowboys (5-3) hoped for and expected when they sent a seventh-round pick to the Patriots acquire Bennett before last week’s bye.
Bennett adhered to his agreement with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and stood for the national anthem for the first time since 2016 when he was with the Seattle Seahawks.
And he provided a jolt to a Cowboys defense that harassed Giants quarterback Daniel Jones with five sacks and 16 hits on the quarterback.
Jones tossed an interception and lost two fumbles, including one that was returned 63 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
Bennett made his presence felt with a sack, four quarterback hits, three tackles and two tackles for losses.
The three-time Pro Bowler, who starred in college at Texas A&M and won a Super Bowl with Seattle in 2014, didn’t talk to the media after the game.
He hasn’t talked since joining the Cowboys.
But his play and actions spoke volumes Monday night.
As far as the anthem goes, Bennett has done too much to let his deal with Jones take away from his protests against social justice and his fight for equality for people of color.
He sat during the anthem with Seattle in 2017 in protest of social justice and he stayed in the locker room during the anthem last season with the Philadelphia Eagles and through the first six games this season with the Patriots.
Bennett published a book in 2018, ‘Things That Make White People Uncomfortable. He discusses of racism and police violence, Black athletes and their relationship to powerful institutions like the NCAA and the NFL, the role of protest in history, and the responsibilities of athletes as role models to speak out against injustice.
He is also in discussions with NFL about teaching a class on racism at an Ivy League school.
So standing for the anthem won’t change his activism.
But his presence on the field has already proven to be a devastating upgrade to the Cowboys defense.
Bennett played all over the Cowboys defensive line, alternated at end with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn and rushed from the tackles spot on passing downs.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Jones said. “I thought he really was impactful in there. I thought that the team in general were feeding off of what he was bringing, and of course very likely he was feeding off what Lawrence was doing out there and what Quinn was doing.”
Lawrence had a sack. Dorance Armstrong had the sack and a forced fumble that led to the score. Maliek Collins had a sack. Quinn and Jaylon Smith shared a sack.
“It opens up our game, and it opens it up for Rob on the other side,” Lawrence said about Bennett’s effect. “They can’t chip forever, and they can’t chip both sides forever and expect to get the ball out in under three seconds.”
“You saw what he did,” Quinn to reporters after the game. “What does it mean to bring a guy like that in? It showed tonight, an older guy who is experienced, been in big games and dominated big games. That’s great to have another presence out there to help this team win.”
It’s fitting that Jones has the last word on Bennett.
It was Jones who signed off on the deal. He talked to Bennett about adhering to the Cowboys anthem mandate of standing.
And he gave Bennett a restructured deal, removing the final year of his contract, allowing him to be a free agent after the season.
So what did he think following the first game of a nine-game rental that the Cowboys hope will lead to an extended stay in the playoffs?
“He really is a great addition for us, and I don’t use that word,” Jones said. “I’m going to say it: he’s a great addition.”