The Week 6 "Monday Night Football" showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium was supposed to be an offensive showdown between Kellen Moore, the current Chargers offensive coordinator who held the same role with the Cowboys for four seasons (2019-2022), and head coach Mike McCarthy, who let Moore go after desiring to take back play-calling duties. Instead, the game was frantic. The two teams' defenses forced nine punts, 20 penalties -- 11 on the Cowboys and nine on the Chargers -- were called and a turnover on downs was forced on each team. However, the Cowboys were able to do just enough in the fourth quarter to prevail, 20-17.
All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons, who had been kept off the stat sheet with the exception of one tackle entering the Chargers' final drive, and 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore made their presence felt when Dallas needed it the most. The Cowboys led 20-17, but Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles offense had possession of the football at their own 33 with two minutes to play. On the very first snap after the two-minute warning, Parsons blew through a double-team block on the right side of the offensive line for a gigantic sack as the Chargers were out of timeouts.
"That's how we feel like we are built for those moments, your pass rush and big-time players make big-time plays," McCarthy said postgame on Monday. "Hopefully we are in that position every week where our pass rush is put up to the forefront of that challenge."
On the very next play, Gilmore utilized some veteran savvy and outmuscled Chargers 2023 first-round pick wide receiver Quentin Johnston on a hitch route for the game-clinching interception
"To watch a guy like Micah show up, that's what great players do," Dak Prescott said postgame on Monday. "Show up in big-time moments. First sack of the game at an important time. Right there next, Defensive Player of the Year, veteran and leader on this team [Gilmore] gets the interception. We talk about staying consistent and picking each other up, and that's what the defense did for me in that moment getting that turnover."
"It was big, there was a lot of back and forth all night, and I was able to make a play at the end," Gilmore said postgame on Monday. That's what big-time players do."
Another player also made critical play after critical play all night on Monday, a player many who don't follow the Cowboys with a microscope may not have been as familiar with: second-year, undrafted safety Markquese Bell. The 24-year-old out of Florida A&M has been a career defensive back, but the 6-foot-3, 205-pound defender has been tasked with filling in at linebacker on Dan Quinn's defense following injuries to rookie linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, who suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, and starting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who is now on injured reserve with a neck injury. Bell totaled seven tackles, five of which occurred at or around the line of scrimmage while allowing just 36 receiving yards and one first down in coverage. He earned a 91.3 grade for his performance from Pro Football Focus, making him the seventh-highest graded player in the NFL for Week 6, on offense or defense, among those who played at least 25 snaps.
"Great job, I think you are going to see what we see every day when you look at a young man who came up through special teams," McCarthy said of Bell's effort on Monday. "Super competitive. He is a natural in there [at linebacker], particularly in sub-groups. I just love his tenacity and confidence for a young player. I thought he did a nice job."
The Chargers averaged their best starting field position of the 2023 season on Monday, their own 34. That figure is what the Seattle Seahawks average for the entire season, a mark which leads the NFL. Despite the Dallas defense being up against multiple times thanks to a long punt return by Los Angeles and a muffed punt by the Cowboys, they didn't break. On the Chargers' first drive of the second half, they needed a yard to gain on the Cowboys' 7. Herbert rolled out to the right to hit wide receiver Josh Palmer, who initially appeared open in the right corner of the end zone. Cornerback DaRon Bland, Dallas' replacement for Trevon Diggs on the outside, sprinted all the way across the formation to break up the would-be touchdown, forcing a turnover on downs. Herbert appeared to be setting up a throw back to the left, but Dallas double-teaming Allen closed off that option, forcing the throw to Palmer on the right. That type of play epitomized how they won on Monday, grinding out stop after stop.
"Tremendous amount of grit," McCarthy said. "I was worried about them there in the second half. They [the Chargers] had those long drives, and we have two three-and-outs [early]. I can't say enough about their tenacity and how they keep battling. That is how we are wired. We put it in their [the defense's] hands there at the end and they delivered."