Despite an 11-2 record the Cowboys entered Sunday night's game in dangerous territory. After a loss last week to their division foes, they could feel the New York Giants breathing down their necks in the NFC East.
Across the field stood a young, hungry football team who was looking to prove itself to the national football fans. Sure, they were 8-5, but for the most part they were unknown outside of their Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston.
Before the game, Gerald McCoy addressed his teammates: “how come our o-line don't get talked about like theirs?” It felt like a ridiculous question to Cowboys fans, but to a team trying to keep pace in the playoff race and make a name for themselves, it could have been the perfect rallying cry.
Facing all of this adversity and knowing that if a loss were to come, the sky would be falling around them, the Cowboys remained calm and won the game. Of course, the incredible performance by Dak Prescott stole the show, but the emergence of this defensive player might be the real key if the Cowboys are going to make a Super Bowl run.
That player is David Irving.
After dominating for much of the game the Cowboys found themselves in a precarious situation. Their defense had given up the lead, and while their offense had tied the game back up, stops needed to be made in order to give Dak and the offense a chance to win it.
Enter David Irving.
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) December 19, 2016
Irving's second sack could not have come at a more crucial time, pushing the Bucs back 8 yards and forcing a punt with just under 3 minutes to play. This sack just about ensured that Tampa would only have one more chance to score, and when they got that chance, Irving came up big once again.
Forcing the Bucs to commit extra help to his side, Irving still found a way to get pressure, forcing Jameis Winston into dangerous throws. He tried to scramble, but was hit by defensive lineman Maliek Collins, forcing a fumble which the Bucs would recover. On the next play, Irving was in Winston's face again, forcing an incompletion.
Irving finished the game with 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass deflection, and 5 quarterback hits. He was absolutely unblockable in the fourth quarter, and may have earned himself increased snaps for the rest of the season, especially if Tyrone Crawford remains injured.
David Irving ended the game with 2 sacks and 4 hurries on 31 rushes. He has the second highest pass rushing productivity for a DT this week
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) December 19, 2016
Irving damn-near won this game for the Cowboys by himself. Going into the final quarter the defense was fading, the Bucs had all the “momentum,” and the game felt as if it was slipping out from under the Cowboys. Then, Irving lived in the Bucs backfield for the entire fourth quarter, consistently making Winston uncomfortable and forcing him into two key interceptions.
Now, the question becomes, can David Irving continue to emerge as the Cowboys top pass rusher, or will he fade once again next week? I have confidence in Irving, and believe that he can keep getting after the quarterback all the way through January.