There's a lion roaming the defense for the Dallas Cowboys, and he's always hungry, no matter what amount of meat he chases down and consumes. Micah Parsons is the king of the jungle whenever he steps onto an NFL field in 2021, and that's not hyperbole -- it's actual fact. What he's been able to achieve in his first year as a pro, and after sitting out his 2020 season at Penn State during the initial surge of COVID-19, is nothing short of remarkable, and he's getting better as the weeks roll along.
His latest victim was the Washington Football Team and quarterback Taylor Heinicke, whose introduction to Parsons came swiftly -- in the first quarter -- and ended with a face full of grass and a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Dorance Armstrong for a Cowboys touchdown. It marked the 11th (!!) sack of the season for Parsons, and he wasn't done there. He'd go on to put hands on Heinicke a second time, this time in the second quarter, upping his sack tally to 12 through the first 13 games of his NFL career.
But wait, there's more.
It's what the rookie first-round pick has done since Week 9 that truly blows the mind, with Parsons having delivered 9.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in his last six games -- the most in the NFL in each category (t-1st in forced fumbles) -- and he hasn't played 100% of defensive snaps in any single game yet this season. That's an unfathomable level of efficiency, and despite being flexed regularly from linebacker (base) to defensive end (secondary).
Already dominating earlier this season, and stepping up to become the hero in the absence of player of All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence and other starting defensive linemen Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore, Parsons found a way to not only turn things up after the Week 7 bye -- he's breaking off the knob entirely.
"I decided within myself that I want to make the change," Parsons said after yet another impact performance, this time in his first-ever battle with Washington. "I've got to be better and they brought me here for a reason, and I feel like I wasn't living up to my own personal expectations. I gotta keep going week in and week out. Actually, [safety Damontae Kazee] comes up to me ever since we made changes like, 'I'm always talking about anybody can do it one week, anybody can do two weeks.'
"But, I say, 'You gotta keep saying it just as a reminder.' We're going into about week seven [of the changes] now, so I gotta do it another week and that's next week. ... It feels good to just get home and the coaches dialing up my number more. More belief that I'll get home, things like that. I think it's just us going off feeding off each other. I think [Trevon Diggs] is doing more. I'm not even watching, but he's got quarterbacks holding onto the ball now, so it gives me an opportunity to get to the quarterback more.
"It's just always complementing each other more than you know."
Parsons is now justifiably being mentioned in the same conversation as greats like DeMarcus Ware -- who helps tutor him -- and Lawrence Taylor, two players who made the most difficult football tasks look effortless. And, for his part, he agrees that the NFL isn't exactly what everybody told him it would be, at least not when it comes to the opposing offense's [in]ability to stop him from hunting down his prey on a play-to-play, week-to-week basis. That's also in part due to the fact he faces off against elite pass protectors in practice to prepare him for what is often lesser competition in games.
"Yeah, for sure," he told Albert Breer of SI.com. "I don't really think the NFL is hard. I think they got some really great players around here. But I just think it's a bunch of players that work really hard, and I think it rubs off whenever you [practice against] guys like La'el [Collins]. When I'm going against La'el and I'm challenging him every down, saying, 'What could I do there? How can I make this better?'
"Or, I'm going against Zack [Martin], and I'm just getting those opportunities, it really just makes those guys [on other teams] not look as good."
He went on to explain his mindset for changing games.
"First and second-down, I think those are times where you might get a mix of run and pass but, third and fourth-down is when you hunt," he said in his post-game press conference. "I think those are the money downs, an opportunity where they might hold the ball a little bit longer and you can get to that quarterback. You should look forward to third and fourth down."
While the offense works feverishly to figure out how to stop sputtering as of late, Parsons is helping to lead a defense that's just now becoming whole, and lethal as a result. The display they put on film against Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen, as well as Antonio Gibson, sent a message of what the unit's potential truly is from this point forward. Finishing the contest at FedEx Field with five sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception that could've been four in the first half (if not for several uncharacteristic dropped INT opportunities), the sky isn't the limit for Dan Quinn's band in 2021.
It's the floor.
"The best is yet to come," said Parsons, after having played in his first-ever game that also featured Lawrence, Gregory and Gallimore. "This is our first game having us all back and I think we all should be excited. I mean, there were a lot of turnovers that we created out there. We did score on defense today.
"I think it's just the beginning. I think we have a long journey ahead and I think the more you guys see us playing together, the more you guys will understand what I'm saying."