DeMarcus Lawrence not taking Dallas Cowboys' playoff run for granted

FRISCO, Texas -- At 29 and in his eighth season with the Dallas Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawrence is by no means old, but he has been around long enough to understand opportunities can be fleeting.

With an 11-4 record, an NFC East title locked up and at least one playoff game coming to AT&T Stadium, Lawrence, who has been to the playoffs three times but never beyond the divisional round, is viewing this chance through a different perspective.

“It’s a very humbling experience being able to go from good to bad and having to sit on the couch and look year in and year out at different teams win the Super Bowl,” Lawrence said. “So being able to have this opportunity again, I feel like we won’t take it for granted.”

As a rookie in 2014, Lawrence missed the first eight games of the season because of a broken foot and by the playoffs was the Cowboys’ best pass-rushing threat, picking up two sacks in the postseason. In 2021, Lawrence missed 10 games because of a broken foot and since his return four games ago has been one of the catalysts for a defense that has played better than anybody could have imagined when the season began.

While rookie linebacker/defensive end Micah Parsons (13 sacks) and cornerback Trevon Diggs (NFL-leading 11 interceptions) have become the stars of the Cowboys' defense, Lawrence -- the longest-tenured defensive player the Cowboys have -- remains valuable and productive.

He has eight tackles, two sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, two pass deflections, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception for a touchdown that cinched the outcome last week against the Washington Football Team.

Lawrence has always played with a sense of urgency, but a combination of nearing 30, injuries and experience has increased that sense.

“I think it's definitely here for the people who have been here. And that's healthy,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “All energy to me is an opportunity to build something with. And the urgency of not being in this position before is something you can utilize. It definitely exists. No question.”

In Week 15, Lawrence forced the first lost fumble in the career of New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley that the Cowboys turned into a field goal for a 15-3 halftime lead on their way to a 21-6 win.

Against Washington last week, Lawrence effectively put the game away in the first quarter. On third-and-7 from the Washington 43, he simply read quarterback Taylor Heinicke’s eyes and dropped off his pass rush. Lawrence tipped the ball in the air, came down with the interception and ran 40 yards for his first touchdown since a 25-yard fumble return in 2012 against Hawaii while he was at Boise State.

On the return, he stiff-armed an offensive lineman, tiptoed down the sideline, eluded a tackler and received help from safety Donovan Wilson to get to the end zone for a 21-0 lead.

“I’m most impressed with the stiff arm, the high knees, making the last guy miss on the sideline,” Ezekiel Elliott said. “He looked like he’s been playing offense his whole life. I think he said he was an all-state tight end on the sideline.”

Said Parsons, “D-Law’s been extraordinary since his return [in Week 13]. He’s experienced a lot. He’s so effective in the pass and the run game. He’s just a force when he’s out there. I told him, I said, ‘You’ve got a little more juice than I thought you had left.’ He’s like, 'Told you.’ So, I’m really happy for D-Law, and I’m happy to have him back.”

According to NextGen Stats, Lawrence reached 17.5 mph, the fourth-fastest speed by a defensive lineman over the past three seasons.

“You know just being the oldest guy on the defense, it’s a lot of talent to keep up with so you know I gotta show the young boys I still got it,” Lawrence said.

Because of the foot surgery, Lawrence has been limited in practices during the week but he has not been limited in games. The good part of the 42-point blowout of Washington was he needed to play just 25 snaps, which keeps him fresh with two regular-season games to go.

“I feel like now the older I’ve got, it’s more mental,” he said. “Being able to look at the game and understand that now you’re going to be playing against the best of the best in the league and any little mistake can cost you that game.”

Early in his career, Lawrence listened to veterans like tight end Jason Witten and linebacker Sean Lee talk late in seasons about making the most of the opportunities because they didn’t know if this would be the last one. Now Lawrence is saying the same things, and players like Parsons, Diggs and defensive end Randy Gregory are the ones listening.

“DeMarcus, he’s our leader, vocally, physically, on the field,” Gregory said. “Having him there kind of makes us go a little faster, play a little bit fast, a little bit smarter. We have a cohesiveness and guys really know what to do, and having the timing down and things like that. Having him out there is a plus any week.”