ARLINGTON, Texas -- Losing Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs, whose 18 career interceptions since 2020 are tied for the second-most in the NFL, was a big blow for the Dallas Cowboys defense, but second-year cornerback DaRon Bland has . Bland recorded his fifth pick-six of the season on Thanksgiving Day, breaking the record the most in a season in NFL history in the Cowboys' 45-10 blowout victory over the Washington Commanders.
"It's hard to predict these never done before records in the NFL," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said postgame when asked if he could have foreseen Bland having the level of success he is having. "We all are not only impressed by what he's doing, his work ethic. We're impressed with how sound he is when he's not making those interceptions. He's playing really sound football back there. It would have been beyond our expectation or dream for him to step up the way he has. It's inspirational. Just like Micah [Parsons]. That's an inspirational situation to the other players on all sides of the ball."
Bland got a 63-yard interception return touchdown off Commanders quarterback Sam Howell's pass that was intended for Jahan Dotson. The pick-six put the Cowboys up by 35 in the Week 12 contest.
"Just go, go," Bland said postgame when asked what was going through his mind after securing the football. "Actually, it was my perfect one just to show my teammates return skills because that's what they said. They see all the pick-sixes now they say they got to see one with return skills. Hopefully I showed them... I couldn't even celebrate after, they picked me up and put me in the pot. It was great having that energy from my teammates. It means a lot."
The timing of Bland breaking the record couldn't have been better since the Northern California's native family was in town for Thanksgiving.
"It means everything," Bland said. "My family is here, so it was great to break the record in front of them."
Most interceptions returned for TDs in a season in NFL History
|INT Return TD
DAL DaRon Bland
PHI Eric Allen
KC Jim Kearney
"Before the game, I heard in the dressing room, a few of them were going over their different moves to get into the red [Salvation Army] kettle, and I thought 'boy everybody can't get in the red kettle," Jones said. "Bland said if he went in he wanted his [position] coach to come jump in with him. That's before the game they were planning on jumping in the kettle. Dak came along and was talking about jumping in the red kettle. This is surreal and unbelievably excited to see this group reach this level of enthusiasm."
Bland was never guaranteed playing time, since he was a fifth-round pick in 2022 out of Sacramento State, but his emergence now has Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones taking a victory lap on his selection during the middle of Bland's second season.
"I don't know about that [Defensive Player of the Year], but I sure thought he got Defensive Player of the Week," Jones said. "He maybe should be Offensive Player of the Week with the way he made that run to the end zone. So throw that one out for consideration."
Once Bland saw the field, teammate and regular practice sparring partner CeeDee Lamb knew that the young corner could be a star given the defensive back ecosystem he is developing in.
"You add Trevon's [Diggs] skillset with Gilly's [Stephon Gilmore] smarts, you're bound for greatness," Lamb said postgame. "Just keeping them in a room, battling against each other internally and keeping them friendly. Just going out to see who can get the most picks, who can do this, who can do that. It's obviously working in our favor. Shoutout DB for making history."
Bland agreed and also mentioned secondary coach Al Harris, a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback in the 2000s, as another critical resource in his development.
"It means everything, it's a lot to learn from," Bland said of his defensive back support system. "You got Al [Harris], who was a 15-year vet. Gilly, another 10-year vet. Then you got Tre, an interception guy."
The 24-year-old began his career as a fill-in at nickel cornerback for an injured Jourdan Lewis last season, and he hauled in five interceptions as a rookie in 2022, tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. Despite switching positions in 2023 to outside cornerback, Bland has played even better. He is actually playing like the best cornerback in the NFL right now. His 19.3 passer rating allowed is the lowest in the NFL among players with 25 or more pass attempts thrown their way this season.
"Hell of a player," Dak Prescott said postgame. "We got a lot of games left to play too, so who knows where he's going to extend this record. I said since the first time you have asked me about that guy, hell of a player. Prepares, does everything the right way. I can't say that I'm surprised he's getting the ball in the sense that he is, but it's incredible to watch him go get these touchdowns and be hungry to get in the end zone. Proud of him."
The entire Cowboys locker room exploded with pride after Bland walked in following a postgame interview and turkey with NFL on CBS Lead Sideline Reporter Tracy Wolfson.
"It was awesome," Prescott said of the locker room reception for Bland. "Got the turkey leg, which is pretty good. Just a great moment for him to break the record here at home on Thanksgiving, understanding how many fans were watching. Having his family here. I went in the locker room first and got ready for him to come in a couple seconds after and the team welcomed him just as he deserved. A lot of cheers and excitement. Gave him the game ball, gave a short, quick speech. As he said, 'a man of few words.' That is right up to par with who he is and who he's always been. Once again, just proud of him. I can promise he's not satisfied with the five interception [return] touchdowns. He's a hell of a competitor, and he's going to extend this thing one way or another."
Bland, in his second NFL season, has the same number of pick-sixes that Pro Football Hall of Famers Night Train Lane, Ronnie Lott and Ken Riley had in their entire careers. Bland's 12 interceptions lead the NFL since his debut in 2022. Seven of them have come in 2023. His seven interceptions are a career-high and the most in the league this season.
"He's very instinctive," Lamb said of Bland. "Obviously at that position you have to be very reactive. He's trusting his process and what Al [Harris] is teaching him. He is getting the right pointers. He's delivering."