Irving’s Dominant Fourth Quarter Helps Cowboys Turn Back Bucs 26-20
If ever a newsflash was a harbinger of a long night ahead for the Cowboys, the rumor that became rubber-stamped as fact a few hours before kickoff certainly posed as one. The Dallas defense, a unit which is long on effort but noticeably thin in the category of star big men, were down two of their best defensive linemen before the gates of Jerry’s palace had even opened.
For a matchup that would require every ounce of speed and beef to prevent Jameis and the Buccaneers from extending their league-best winning-streak to six games, the revelation that DeMarcus Lawrence and Cedric Thronton were unhealthy scratches from the lineup was not exactly the kind of news expected to precede what the Cowboys and their fans were hoping would be a bounce-back victory on Sunday night in Arlington. Its line rotation now robbed of two of its starters, a faceless defense looked to be on a fast track to being nameless by the end of the evening.
And then David Irving showed up on the scene. The same Irving who was voted the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week in Dallas’ Week 6 victory over Green Bay reappeared on the scene when the Cowboys needed it most, delivering a fourth-quarter to remember in a 26-20 Dallas victory.
Statistically, Irving’s performance on Sunday night may not have been as impressive as the one he offered up at Lambeau Field in October. And it’s obvious to everyone that Jameis is nowhere near the stratosphere of Aaron Rodgers as a quarterback. But nobody can rightly say that Irving’s flurry of activity during the final frame was any less significant to the Cowboys’ sixth consecutive home victory.
Since earning a bit of national acclaim for his manhandling of the Packers, Irving had gone sack-less over eight games. But then the fourth quarter rolled around on Sunday night. Two sacks. Two quarterback pressures. And one very significant nudge to Winston’s right elbow. All of which resulted in Irving being awarded the honorary game-ball from NBC’s Sunday Night Football crew after the game.
The Cowboys’ makeshift defensive line had their moments during the early going to help build a 17-6 halftime advantage. In the second quarter, it was pressure from Terrell McClain that resulted in the first big play of the game for the Dallas defense, as Winston lost control of the ball, leading to a Maliek Collins recovery at the Tampa Bay 14-yard line. Five plays later, Ezekiel Elliott scored from 2 yards out to give the Cowboys a 10-3 lead.
But as the game progressed and the pass-rushers grew winded, Winston and the Tampa Bay offense began to have their way. Two drives and two touchdowns later, the Bucs looked to be in an unshakeable groove. Whether it was a no-huddle attack, or clutch third-down conversions, or deep passes to the post, Winston & Co. had all the answers. And with 13:26 remaining, they had the ball again, and were 75 yards away from breaking loose of a 20-20 scoreboard tie-up.
That’s when Big David showed up in a big way. On first-down, Irving knocked offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus to the ground, then cut inside the guard and swallowed Winston for a sack. Two plays later, Irving cut inside of the edge block of Cherilus and brushed the elbow of Winston’s throwing arm as the ball was being released, leading to an overthrow and an interception by safety Jeff Heath. Moments later, Dan Bailey tacked on another field goal to give Dallas a 23-20 lead.
Irving’s abuse of Cherilus was spotted again late in the fourth quarter. With Dallas ahead 26-20 and only 2:58 showing on the game-clock, Irving simply tossed Cherilus aside on his way to enveloping Winston at the Tampa 17-yard line. Rather than execute a game-winning drive, the Bucs were forced to punt the ball back to Dallas once again.
Irving continued to leave a mark upon the game even when he didn’t make one upon the stat sheet. When Bucs running back Doug Martin was used to double-team Irving on the game’s final drive, room opened up for others to harass Winston out of the pocket. And when Maliek Collins caught up to the quarterback, another fumble ensued. Only a fortunate recovery by Martin kept Tampa’s waning hopes from fading away completely on that play.
But on fourth-and-12, it was Irving’s presence in the backfield that helped to seal the deal at last. His pressure in the face of Winston flushed the Tampa Bay quarterback from the pocket and led to an interception for Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick at the 50-yard line.
“It was probably confidence,” Irving said of his second-half outburst. “Confident in my team. Honestly, it’s the team. You feel it. When I feel it, the whole team feels it… We feed off each other. We motivate each other. When multiple guys get on the same level, things happen. Things happen.”
Things were happening on Sunday night. Thanks to little-known David Irving, who saved the Cowboys’ no-name defense from a meltdown they could not afford.
That’s a newsflash that fans in Dallas contemplated with elation on Monday morning, their team back on track at 12-2 atop the NFC.