A game like Sunday was a statement not only to himself but everybody else that the defensive end can be a force on the field.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) fumbles the ball as he's sacked by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27. 2020. The Eagles recovered the fumble. (Ron Jenkins)
ARLINGTON — This was the kind of game people were looking for from Randy Gregory.
The Cowboys’ defensive end recorded six tackles, 11/2 sacks, two quarterback hits and three forced fumbles along with a pass breakup in a 37-17 victory over the Eagles on Sunday.
Gregory becomes the first Cowboys player to force three fumbles in a game since David Irving did it in 2016.
It was a welcome appearance by Gregory, who missed the 2017 and 2019 seasons while on suspension for violating the substance abuse policy of the NFL. He missed 10 games of the 2016 season for the same offense. While Gregory was getting his life in order, the NFL moved on without him. It’s how it is.
The Cowboys waited on Gregory, believing the 2015 second-round pick could become a productive citizen not only on the field but off it as well.
Gregory’s talent is apparent. A 6-5, 260-pound defensive end who’s supposed to cause problems for quarterbacks with his speed off the edge. During his time away, he bulked up, gaining more muscle to his frame to add power to his game.
The numbers didn’t show up in the 2020 season until two sacks on Thanksgiving Day. Then in a must-win game Sunday at AT&T Stadium, Gregory was all over the place.
A game like Sunday was a statement not only to himself but everybody else that Gregory can be a force on the field.
“Yeah, it was one of my better games,” Gregory said. “I think for the average viewer, they get stuck on the stats, so I think I showed up there on the box score and it makes a lot of people happy. Me along with a lot of other guys, we’re never satisfied in our work. There’s still more to do, still more to get better at, and that’s what we’ll do this upcoming week to prepare for the Giants.”
Oh yes, the Giants. Next week is a game with significant meaning. If the Cowboys defeat the Giants and the Eagles knock off Washington, Dallas will win the NFC East. The Giants can clinch the division with a win over the Cowboys if Washington loses.
A thought of playing a significant game in January didn’t seem possible when the Cowboys were beaten up 41-16 on Thanksgiving Day by Washington. That afternoon, Gregory had two sacks, and it seemed trivial considering the record of the team, 3-8, at that moment.
Now the Cowboys are playing for something. In some ways they believed they were always playing for something, whether people believed in them or not.
And here comes Gregory playing his best game of the season.
“His pressure was impactful,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You could see the number of three-man rushes, and he was still applying pressure. But I like the look of our front guys particular. I think [defensive coordinator] Mike [Nolan] has done a great job with the personnel grouping and situational calls. We had a couple of wrinkles today that I felt were very productive for us.”
Gregory felt the attention he was getting, whether it was a double-team or a chip block by a tight end or running back. On the first play of the game, fellow defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence faced three defenders.
When you get pressure on quarterbacks, and that was the case with Gregory, it causes problems and frustrations. Gregory forced fumbles in the second, third and fourth quarters. And his fourth quarter was sensational. He knocked down a pass, split a sack with defensive tackle Neville Gallimore and forced a fumble.
“I think so,” Gregory said whether the Eagles were frustrated. “I think, at least for me, the offensive line was doing a lot of things to help protect the quarterback back there. A lot of chips, a lot of max protections, keep the tight ends in there. So for a defensive line, even as a defense as a whole, for us it seemed like they’re not real confident in what they had there, and we’ve got to take advantage of that.”
That fourth quarter and the game overall is the type of performance the Cowboys have sought in Gregory after he received what seemed like a fourth chance.
He’s grateful for another opportunity because he knows how difficult it was to get here, especially from a physical standpoint.
“But as far as day-to-day, feeling strong, feeling like I can go out there and really play at my highest level,” Gregory said, “I’ve really stayed consistent with that throughout the year. Very proud of myself for that. I think in years past I couldn’t say the same. But this year, I’ve done a pretty good job.”