© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

"Keep knocking on the devil's door long enough and sooner or later someone's gonna answer you." 

In other words, be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. On a four-game win streak and feeling fantastic about their chances of potentially stealing away the NFC East throne in 2021, the Washington Football Team turned their eyes to the division-leading Dallas Cowboys -- during the first "Dallas Week" of the season wherein social media was flooded with the usual "we want Dallas" videos and tweets. On Sunday, that win streak came to a screeching halt, and the return of Randy Gregory played a massive part in making sure it did.

Gregory joined fellow defensive starter Neville Gallimore in returning from injured reserve in Week 14, ready to face Washington amid pregame bulletin board material exchanged between head coaches Mike McCarthy and Ron Rivera. Any concerns of rust after having missed the previous four games with a strained calf were quickly put to bed, and continuously throughout the game to its conclusion -- an exclamation point plastered by Gregory all over whatever hope WFT regained late in the fourth quarter.

First came the pass breakup turned interception on third-and-10 by Gregory, a critical play that recovered the possession for Dallas after quarterback Dak Prescott tossed an INT of his own on the previous series that sailed over the head of CeeDee Lamb.

"It just shows my instincts and athleticism," he told media after the game. "It's funny, [because] we worked on cut blocks a couple of weeks ago, when [defensive coordinator] Dan Quinn was out there with a helmet on at practice, and that's the drill right there. Get the cut block down, get your hands up. Thankfully I was able to get in the lane, get my left hand and block it. 

"At that point, I was trying to figure out which way was the right way to go. I was looking up and wasn't really sure which way was the right end zone. I was just trying to not get caught from behind or fumble the ball."

That takeaway led to a drive punctuated by a touchdown strike from Prescott to four-time Pro Bowl wideout Amari Cooper, and gave the Cowboys an 11-0 lead in the first quarter. It was the first impact play by Gregory, but not the last. He was also a part of the tackle that helped cornerback Jourdan Lewis punch free a fumble that was also recovered by Lewis, and what he did late in the fourth quarter is inarguably the reason the Cowboys escaped with a win after Prescott tossed an ill-advised throw that turned into a pick-six for linebacker Cole Holcomb, making it a 27-20 score with only four minutes and 13 seconds remaining in regulation.

Prescott and the offense then answered that mistake by going three-and-out on the next series and, with that, found themselves asking the defense to save the day yet again after failing to put the finishing touches on a game dictated by their defensive counterparts.

Gregory answered the call with bells on.

On third-and-3 from the Washington 37-yard line, and with an injured Taylor Heinicke on the sideline after having been bullied all game, it was Kyle Allen attempting to mount the comeback, but he was instead introduced to Gregory with a sack fumble that was recovered by safety Jayron Kearse just ahead of the two-minute warning. It turned out to be the last time Washington would touch the ball.

"I didn't see he threw it until the last second," said Gregory of the game-sealing play. "I thought I had sacked him. At the same time, I thought he threw the ball away. His knee was probably down by then. Big play for us. We just need to close out games earlier than that."

All told, Gregory finished with three QB pressures, two QB hits, one sack, one pass breakup, one interception and one forced fumble, and he did it in only 31 defensive snaps (46%) -- the efficiency of his dominance also on full display -- having also tied his career-high for sacks (6) with four regular season games remaining to blow past the mark.

Still, despite his potent performance, he feels like he still left plays on the field.

"It felt good [to be back]," he said. "The most important thing is getting the win. Got out of the game healthy, made some plays. It was a good way to come back. There are a few things I have to fix, as far as my pass rush."

The defensive thumping of Heinicke, Allen and all manner of Washington offense sent the message that a mostly whole Cowboys defense might be an absolute terror going forward. Considering they were already ranked No. 4 in the NFL in DVOA ahead of Week 14, seeing what their potential might be under Quinn -- with Gregory joining Gallimore and All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence returning from injury in December to join rookie phenom Micah Parsons and a secondary led by Trevon Diggs -- was nothing short of eye-opening, but it's something the Cowboys expect and look to improve upon.

Parsons finished with yet another multi-sack game (raising his rookie season sack tally to 12), on a day that also saw Lawrence add a sack to a five-sack outing for the Cowboys, and if not for several uncharacteristic drops in the secondary, one that might've also been a four-interception day ... in the first half alone.

And then there's the rejuvenated run defense, one that held Antonio Gibson to just 36 rushing yards on 10 attempts after the running back rattled off 358 combined rushing yards over the previous four games, all wins for WFT.

This Cowboys defense is simply different, as Quinn finally gets his complete war chest on the field.

"Extremely scary," said Gallimore of what the ceiling is for the Cowboys defense, himself having landed a sack in his first game played of the 2021 season. "We're just now starting to play our better football. I'm not even going to say our best football. We just need to put our head down and keep working to understand that we have a lot to prove."

Needless to say, Gregory agrees wholeheartedly.

"We expect to do a lot of great things," he added. "It's really about our preparation and going out there and executing. When guys have their laser focus, about their game plan, we really go out there and ball out. Guys are going to make plays. 

"We have guys who can rush the passer. We have guys who can play the run. A lot of guys who really want to go out there and make a play, and be that guy who makes a play. We just have to give the guys the opportunity to do that."

And what of McCarthy's "confident" declaration ahead of the game? 

"We preach all week about supreme confidence," Gregory said. "[Assistant head coach] Rob Davis talks about it all the time. To have that level of confidence from our head coach, is going to trickle down to the rest of the guys. 

"They wanted us and got us. We showed up and played and got the win."