It seems like all Randy Gregory does is overcome adversity, and the Carolina Panthers found this out in a very real way on Sunday afternoon. Gregory is a player with a second-round pick attached to his career and that carries its own amount of pressure to perform, as does playing for the Dallas Cowboys, but all of that weight is made heavier when combating bipolar depression and clinical anxiety along with an NFL front office that nearly derailed his career on several occasions via suspensions — because of outdated protocol regarding the use of marijuana.
Hell, Gregory has even gone go toe-to-toe with the NFLPA to get back into the league, and now he’s only two weeks removed from having contracted COVID-19, but you wouldn’t know it, considering the way he put hands on Sam Darnold in Week 4, to the tune of two sacks and four quarterback hurries. It marked the third multi-sack game of Gregory’s career, but if you think he’s content with that, you’d be wrong.
He believes he should’ve gotten more sacks on Darnold.
“There were a couple plays that I feel like I left a little bit out there where I wasn’t expecting to get open, the way I was,” Gregory said after the victory at AT&T Stadium. “I don’t know. It is what it is. You miss out on some opportunities. … We got the win.
“I’m just proud of the way guys are playing at the end of the day. The sacks matter, but we really want to win. I want us all to play well together.”
Gregory’s second sack on the day came on second-and-8 with the Cowboys losing 14-13 and the Panthers looking to add to their lead ahead of halftime. The six-yard loss created a third-and-14 that then led to a field goal attempt that was missed by kicker Zane Gonzalez. Dak Prescott would go on to find Amari Cooper for an electric 35-yard touchdown on the next possession — Gregory’s sack leading to a 10-point swing for the Cowboys that led to a 20-point third quarter throttling.
The Cowboys are now 3-1 on the season and the 36-28 final against the Panthers isn’t indicative of what actually happened in the game, but more of a Dallas team that took their foot off of the throttle after an explosive third quarter by both a defensive and offensive onslaught.
Having scored 20 points in the third quarter, including seeing Trevon Diggs break the franchise record by adding two more interceptions to his 2021 tally and Prescott combine with Ezekiel Elliott to thrash the Panthers, things cooled noticeably in the fourth quarter — the Cowboys scoring just three points while Darnold and Co. added two touchdowns to make the game closer than it should’ve been.
And that’s something Gregory can’t and won’t abide.
“I think I get an idea of the direction that we are headed, but I don’t know if I know how good we can be,” he said. “I think I agree with Zeke — that we want to being playing our best ball towards the end of the year, just trending upwards and progressing which I think we are. There’s no telling. As long as everyone keeps playing the way we’ve been playing and we stay together, I think we’ll be alright.
“The only issue I had, kind of like Zeke said, is finishing games out. We played so well for three quarters and I think guys kind of relaxed a little bit. We can’t have that. We have the ability to really shut teams out and finish them out. I think we had the opportunity to do that this week, just like last week, and we didn’t capitalize on that. I think that’s probably the aspect of our game as a whole that we need to get better at.
” … We just have to choke teams out. We had the opportunity to that and we didn’t do it. Four minutes left in the game, it’s an 8-point game. That’s not what you want. We just have to get better at that.”
Having already improved massively as a unit in the first year under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the Cowboys are leading the league in takeaways and getting a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well, and without the benefit of All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence and starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore — both continuing to rehab on injured reserve — along with rookie second-round pick Kelvin Joseph. It’s a defense that hasn’t been whole all season, but is still wildly outperforming expectations, and Gregory is finding his legs in his 2021 return from suspension.
There is more than one way to wreak havoc in the opposing backfield though, and Gregory understands this quite well.
“You’ve got to be relentless if you want to be a defensive end or D-lineman in general,” he said. “I think sometimes I don’tget to the quarterback, but one thing I can do is keep moving my feet and keeping trying to get to the quarterback. When thathappens, guys get into funky positions and they have to hold you. I think that’s what happened this week and last week.
“I just want to disrupt the game and make an impact on the game as much as I can, whether it be sacks or holding calls or whatever.”
And just like that, once again in his promising career, Gregory himself is now the adversity other teams must overcome.
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