Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will have nightmares next week.
He’ll be facing the Atlanta Falcons, he’ll be dropping back to pass and the last thing he‘ll see before waking up is defensive end Adrian Clayborn bearing down ready to sack him.
On Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Clayborn lived in the Cowboys backfield as he sacked Prescott a franchise-record six times in the Falcons 27-7 victory. Chuck Smith and Claude Humphrey shared the old team record of five sacks in a game.
“It’s crazy. Six? Three or four is a humongous game so six is kinda unreal. It’s kinda videogame-like,” defensive tackle Dontari Poe said.
A modest Clayborn said after game that was just happy the Falcons got the win to move the team to 5-4 on the season. Modesty only goes so far when you are one of just four players who has recorded six sacks in a game in NFL history since sacks became an official stat in 1982.
“I play the same way every game and it lucked out for me today,” Clayborn said. “You always envision (a game like this), doesn’t mean it is going to happen. I am just blessed I am finally in my groove.”
He took advantage of the groin and back injury to Cowboys’ All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, who was announced as inactive on the final injury report Saturday. Attempting to replace Smith, who is widely considered one of the of the best left tackles in the game was backup tackle Chaz Green and Byron Bell. Green started the game, but was replaced by Bell after being destroyed by Clayborn so many times.
From start to finish, Clayborn used speed to blow past the unready tackles and get to Prescott. On the snap of the football Clayborn went right around Green and Bell, barely getting touched on many of his six sacks.
“I only have one move and it worked,” Clayborn said. His six sacks today are 1.5 fewer than his highest-season total, which came his rookie year in 2011 when he played for Tampa Bay.
“I call him ‘Bad Mood A,’” linebacker Deion Jones said. “He is always fired up and always full throttle no matter what. I love that about him. He is a nice guy, but I always say he is in a bad mood because he is always muggin’, but he is a great guy to have in the locker room.”
It wasn’t just the amount of sacks. It was the timeliness of them.
All six of Clayborn’s sacks were drive-defining plays. The seven-year veteran out of Iowa forced two strip-sack fumbles, pushed the Cowboys out of field goal range with two sacks and had two third down sacks to get the defense off the field.
With Atlanta up 10-7 just before halftime and Dallas threatening at the Falcons 39-yard line, Clayborn flew past Green and literally stole the ball from the arms of Prescott. Then, with the Falcons up 17-7 in the third quarter, Dallas had moved the ball down to the Atlanta 12. Clayborn came to the rescue again. He brought down Prescott for a 7-yard loss using his speed rush once again. Three plays and minus-two yards later the Cowboys missed a 38-yard field goal off the right upright.
“(Clayborn) energized the entire organization today,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He’s absolutely the best teammate you could ask for. He works extremely hard day in and day out. He doesn’t say a lot, but he’s a leader on our football team.”
Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett said they tried to help their backup tackles by shifting over their running backs to chip Clayborn once he got into the backfield.
“They chipped me some and it hurt. I definitely felt it and when they didn’t I took advantage of it,” Clayborn said.
His sixth and final sack was an instance when the Cowboys left their left tackle on an island. This time, the poor soul standing in the way was Bell, who had replaced Green.
With the Falcons holding a commanding 27-7 lead and the Cowboys forced to go to the air, Clayborn had ample opportunities and go after Prescott. He did just that. Clayborn rushed past Bell and reached Prescott’s arm just as he was about to let the pass go. He chopped down on Prescott’s arm and jarred the football loose for the second time in the game – recording his record-breaking sack in the process.
“What an amazing effort by Clayborn,” linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. said. “It’s only right for a person like him to be able to do that. To see him go out and execute the game plan, he’s well deserving of it.”