'Micah, keep going! Don't stop!' With LB Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys' defense leading the way

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones did not understand the question at first, so it was asked twice.

Can linebacker Micah Parsons reach 34 sacks?

“Well, if Maris got 61 home runs,” Jones said, referring to New York Yankees legend Roger Maris, who still holds the American League home run record, for now. “That’s old stuff right there. But, uh, no, I don’t know about, I’m not sure where we got 34.”

It’s math, Jerry.

Parsons has four sacks in two games. The Cowboys have a 17-game season. That would average out to 34 sacks, which would be an NFL record. Not only would it be a record, it would obliterate the mark shared by Hall of Famer Michael Strahan and T.J. Watt at 22.5.

“He’s on pace for 34, OK, OK,” Jones said. “Well, that was a phenomenal game he had out there. There’s no question he adjusted the game by being in that game.”

In Sunday’s 20-17 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, Parsons had sacks on the opening drive of the first and second halves. He was credited with 10 of the Cowboys’ 15 pressures. It is the second time in his career he has had at least 10 pressures in a game; he had 12 last season against the Kansas City Chiefs.

“He’s just being deliberate in his job,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “Micah is a great pass-rusher, being able to get off the ball. Taking advantage of his opportunities is all we ask for. So Micah, keep going! Don’t stop!”

In his second season, Parsons might just be getting started.

Parsons has played 18 regular-season games (on COVID-19 list for Week 18 last season), and he has 17 sacks. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Aldon Smith had the record for most sacks (16.5) in the first 18 games of a career.

Parsons’ four sacks in the first two games are tied for the second most by a Cowboy. Hall of Famer Charles Haley had 5.5 sacks in the first two games in 1994. Future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware had four sacks in the first two games of the 2011 season, and Lawrence had four in the first two games in 2017.

“Just executing my game plan, just knowing when to take my shots and when not to take my shots, understanding when to go high and when to go low,” Parsons said. “I just put a lot of work into this season.”

Even before quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a fractured thumb in the season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cowboys knew they would have to lean on their defense, which means leaning a lot on Parsons.

Through two games, the Cowboys' defense has allowed two combined touchdowns to offenses quarterbacked by Tom Brady and Joe Burrow. The last time the Cowboys gave up just two touchdowns in the first two games was 1996.

Burrow was sacked six times by four different players. Like Parsons, Dorance Armstrong had two sacks. Dante Fowler Jr. forced a fumble on his sack that was nearly recovered by Parsons. Leighton Vander Esch had his first sack since Week 2 of last season.

The Cowboys’ offense scored touchdowns on their first two possessions but got bogged down for most of the game after that. The defense held strong until the Bengals put together a 19-play, 83-yard drive and 2-point conversion to tie the game at 17.

When Cincinnati had a chance to win the game when it got the ball with 2:13 to play, the defense forced a three-and-out with a key Trevon Diggs tackle on a throw to the flat on third-and-3 to Tyler Boyd.

“We just needed a stop,” Diggs said. “I was like, ‘Let me go make these plays and get the offense back on the field, and let’s go win this thing.’”

And they did. Quarterback Cooper Rush put the Cowboys in position with three completions. A Tony Pollard run got the ball to the Cincinnati 32. Brett Maher made the game-winning field goal from 50 yards as time expired.

“That’s how we have our mindset anyway,” Armstrong said. “We want to lead our team and help us win. Let them do their thing. As long as we do our part, things will be great.”

With Parsons, there is always a chance, but he is quick to point out it is not just him.

“One lion can’t do it by himself. You need a pride. It’s just like when 10 hyenas go after one lion, the lion is liable to lose,” Parsons said. “The fact that I’ve got 10 other guys that I feel that I can rely on, that’s what makes this boat go 'round.”