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© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rumors of the demise of DeMarcus Lawrence were greatly exaggerated. OK, more accurately, they were never even remotely accurate to begin with, but they're truly becoming tweet-delete worthy as of late. The All-Pro defensive end has been nothing short of electric since his return from injury in Week 13, and is a key reason the Dallas Cowboys went from a 1-3 record in November to a four-game win streak in an undefeated December, and he again put his talents on full display in the Week 16 rematch with the Washington Football Team -- one that saw Taylor Heinicke admit to having gotten his 'a-- kicked'

It was a historic night for the Cowboys on a lot of levels, fueled by a lights-out effort in all three phases of football, from Dak Prescott torching WFT with a slew of haymakers to Lawrence and the defense sparking the initial flame when Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs landed his 11th interception of the season on Heinicke's first play from scrimmage. That play gave Prescott a chance at a mulligan after a stalled initial offensive drive, and he not only made good on it, he almost literally couldn't miss for a long time thereafter -- logging only one incompletion for much of the first half en route to 307 passing yards and four touchdowns over the first two quarters. 

Of course, that put pressure back on the defense to find the end zone, thanks to the friendly ongoing wager between the two sides, and Lawrence did his part when he tipped a Heinicke pass straight up into the air in the first quarter before coming down with it himself and then bursting forward for a pick-six. But he says it didn't count toward the running tally, says Prescott and a ceiling-less Cowboys offense that had their way against Washington on Sunday, to say the least.

"Offense be cheating, bro," said Lawrence. "They only gave us the turnover but not the touchdown, so they won the battle today, but we coming back strong next weekend [against the visiting Arizona Cardinals]."

As for the play itself, Lawrence attributes it to being prepped well and then executing when given the chance.

"In all honesty, the quarterback just threw the ball right in my direction," said Lawrence after the game. "I was lucky enough to get my hands on the ball and get into the end zone. I don't know how I made it into the end zone, I just made it."

As for the speed it took to get there, and credit safety Donovan Wilson for teleporting downfield to place the critical block that cleared the final couple of yards, Lawrence was jovial about what was one of his most athletic plays ever, and even included a stiff-arm that freed him up to break loose. He looked like an actual ball carrier on the play, and it's clear his broken foot has no lingering effects whatsoever but, what's more is in how Lawrence is loving the message it sent to the young lions that have emerged on a Cowboys defense once carried mostly (and oftentimes solely) by him.

"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," said Lawrence with a smile. "... Yeah, you know Madden has been slacking the last couple years on my speed, I feel like they got the picture tonight."

One of those aforementioned lions is Simba himself, Micah Parsons, who couldn't be more ecstatic to be back on the field with Lawrence after having only played one game together before the injury.

"D-Law's been extraordinary since his return," said Parsons, a newly-voted Pro Bowler and frontrunner for both NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "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, 'I told you.'"

In his four games back, Lawrence has been on a tear -- delivering 11 tackles, four tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, one interception, one forced fumble and a defensive touchdown. Not surprising at all is, combined with the efforts of players like Diggs, Parsons, Randy Gregory and a list of others on defense that include breakout free agents like Jayron Kearse, the defense has been a [the] major reason for the red-hot December by the Cowboys, one that saw them win three consecutive road games before thumping Washington in the return home. 

It's a unit that leads the league with 34 takeaways, and there are still two regular season games still left to play. But as eye-popping as that (and other stats) are for this unit as a standalone item, when adding in context that reveals the number of games missed by key players this season and the fact it's the inaugural year in Dallas for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn -- following a franchise-worst defensive campaign in 2020 -- it truly begins to sink in just how special the defense has been.

And now that they're whole, they've hit a new level of lethality but Parsons, who himself has 13 sacks on the season and more pressures than the Earth's mantle, doesn't believe they've played their best football yet.

"We can a lot better," said the rookie phenom. "We did a good job, but that's not the best we can do. ... We're just showing that we're staying hungry and that we're not alligators who get paralyzed after we eat."

Lawrence agrees wholeheartedly, and isn't interested in calling the dismantling of WFT a statement game.

"I'm not really worried about if anybody called it a statement," he said. "This is all about us going out there and doing what we do each and every week. I feel like we played a complete game today. ... I feel like we showed ourselves that we can play a complete game, but we still have lot that we can build on and being able to go out there and dominate on all three phases of the game, I mean we just gotta keep building on that and we'll get better from it."

With a playoff berth and the NFC East both clinched, the No. 2-seeded Cowboys are in a full-on sprint to the finish line against the No. 1-seeded Green Bay Packers, and that's the next goal -- the bigger mission being very clear in Dallas.

"Win in the playoffs, make it to the Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl," Lawrence said.