Micah Parsons is typically the straw that stirs the Cowboys' proverbial drink on defense. He entered Week 14 as the NFL's 2023 leader in quarterback pressures (78) and quarterback pressure rate (20.3%, best among players with at least 250 pass-rush snaps in this season), but right before kickoff he was seen utilizing an oxygen mask ahead of facing the Cowboys' arch-rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.
The 24-year-old All-Pro edge rusher isn't out of shape, he was just dealing with flu-like symptoms that he came down with on Saturday night, including a triple-digit fever.
"Last night I woke up with a one-hundred two, three fever," Parsons said postgame Sunday night. "Just like...I took as many drugs and I.V.'s as a man can take to possibly be able to play today. I just need to go home and rest."
Despite the internal struggles, Parsons put up a typical performance, totaling a sack and three quarterback pressures in a 33-13 wire-to-wire victory in which the Dallas defense forced three turnovers, all fumbles.
"We can take over this game if we want to," Parsons said. "We just have to keep going. We have the right players in this room. We just have to keep showing it."
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is well aware of how critical Parsons' presence is to their winning equation week in and week out, and he did what he could to help Parsons keep battling against the Pro Bowlers like right tackle Lane Johnson, left guard Landon Dickerson and center Jason Kelce.
"I talk about expectations a lot about myself and my expectations, I've got very high standards and expectations for Micah Parsons, and he wants that," Prescott said postgame. "He's shown that he deserves that and can live up to him. I checked on him, but it wasn't much of a 'how are you doing?' It was more of go have a flu game type performance if you're out here and you can play. I know that's what you're thinking. I'm thinking the same thing. I know you're going to be tired, that's part of it. That's when you get to show how great you are. It was really just reminders throughout the game. He walked by me, I got a chance to say "Hey Micah." I'd say something, shake his hand, and dap him up often and keep it rolling. Kind of little the little relationship or transactions that we have during the game right there. It's just to you know, keep him into it."
Parsons' lone sack came at a critical juncture in the night. The Eagles had driven down inside the red zone, trailing 17-3, at the two-minute warning. He came off the right side of the line and completely overwhelmed Johnson to take down 2022 NFL MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts. That forced an Eagles third-and-18 at the Cowboys 26, and Philadelphia then settled for a 44-yard field goal that trimmed the deficit down to 11, 17-6.
Prescott was then able to lead the Cowboys down the field for a touchdown, a one-yard pass to wide receiver Michael Gallup with 20 seconds left to spare in the second quarter thanks to Parsons cutting the Eagles' prior drive short.
"Make sure that I'm trying to feed that hungry mindset that he has," Prescott said talking about what he said to Parsons when he walked past him. "The guy's a hell of a player. He's a game changer, and a lot of times you get into games, and they have a game plan throwing three people at you and it can be frustrating. A lot of times it's just picking him up from that and just telling him to stay resilient. But tonight, is about being resilient knowing understanding your tired and understanding that you know you don't feel your best. But you're still able to play and I expect you to go make plays as you do yourself. And he did it once again."
The good news for the Cowboys is as long as Parsons can walk, he'll be suited up and ready to play ball.
"I don't think anything in life is earned without going through something," Parsons said. "This is just part of the journey. I put too much work in this offseason and too much time in during the week to ever just say 'I'm going to tap out.' [Athletic trainer] Jim [Maurer] said 'are you ok to play?' Checked my fever when I came in, and I said 'that wasn't even a question for me.' I just think that's what it's about. I would never give up on my teammates. I understand how much they count on me and how much I'm involved in the defense and how they try to build things around me. As long as I'm breathing, and I got these two legs that can move, I'll be out there."
In the end, the Cowboys were able to avenge their narrow 28-23, Week 9 loss up in Philadelphia with the 20-point victory, their eighth such win this season. Sunday night wasn't explicitly about making a statement, but Dallas doesn't mind that the win could change their public perception.
"It's super satisfying because we didn't beat ourselves, and we showed them who we are now," Parsons said. "They respect that."