12/05 16:14 CST Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland shrugs off blip in historic
season as Eagles await
Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland shrugs off blip in historic season as Eagles
By SCHUYLER DIXON
AP Pro Football Writer
FRISCO, Texas (AP) --- From pick-6s to picked apart, DaRon Bland has seen a
sudden change in his breakout season as the Dallas cornerback prepares to face
A.J. Brown and company in an anticipated rematch with Philadelphia.
One thing about Bland, he bounced back from getting burned for 107 yards in the
first quarter by Seattle's D.K. Metcalf to getting his NFL-leading eighth
interception in the second half.
And another thing about the league's new record holder for interception returns
for a touchdown in a season with five, Bland probably never worried much about
it in the first place.
The unheralded 2022 fifth-round pick out of Fresno State didn't change his
low-key persona as the pick-6s piled up.
Bland also wasn't flustered much when the Cowboys decided to keep veteran
Stephon Gilmore on Metcalf after Bland's early struggles in the 41-35 victory
over the Seahawks last week.
"I probably wouldn't have done that," defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said, "if
I was worried about how somebody would react to it."
The penchant for interceptions didn't start when Bland grabbed a fluttering
ball and ran 22 yards for a score after a hit by Trevon Diggs on New York
Giants star running back Saquon Barkley in the opener.
Bland led the Cowboys with five interceptions as a rookie last season, and he's
the only player with at least 10 since he entered the league. Bland has 13.
The NFL record for pick-6s in a season fell when Bland got the last two in
consecutive weeks against Carolina and Washington.
"It's just opportunities," Bland said. "You can't chase a pick-6 or you're
going to get a touchdown scored on you. When it comes, you've just got to be
Being a low-round draft pick wasn't really a new experience, either.
Bland took the only scholarship offer he had, a notch below college's highest
level at Sacramento State of the Football Championship Subdivision. He
transferred to Fresno State for his final season, and caught the eye of Cowboys
defensive backs coach Al Harris.
There were 15 players listed as cornerbacks taken ahead of Bland in the 2022
draft, and another dozen with the more generic tag of defensive back, which he
Bland played all 17 games as a rookie, with eight starts, and now all those
players, and every other cornerback in the NFL, are listed behind him in the
latest Pro Football Focus rankings at the position, despite the hiccup against
There won't be anywhere for Bland to hide Sunday night against the defending
NFC champion Eagles (10-2), who beat the Cowboys (9-3) by five at home, but had
their NFC East lead trimmed to a game with a loss to San Francisco last weekend.
DeVonta Smith starts opposite Brown for quarterback Jalen Hurts, an MVP
candidate along with Dallas QB Dak Prescott. There will be chances for Bland to
get burned again.
"I think it's life in the NFL. It's the reality of what these men compete in,"
coach Mike McCarthy said. "I don't anticipate any change in the way he
approaches it and the way he plays."
Less than two weeks after triggering Bland's first interception return for a
score, Diggs sustained a season-ending knee injury in practice.
Suddenly, Bland was starting outside opposite Gilmore instead of in the slot.
The second pick-6 came in Bland's second game in that role, the third three
more games after that.
"Nothing changed," Bland said. "Just try to keep that same mindset coming in.
Just try to keep attacking and be sound. It was definitely devastating when he
first went down."
Metcalf's 73-yard touchdown on Seattle's third play came when Bland tried to
step in front of a slant route to knock the ball down, not intercept it. He's
been praised for staying within the scheme as the 24-year-old closed in on
"As humans, you have four pick-6s to tie the record, you can't help but just,
?I want to break this record. I'm going to make this play,'" safety Jayron
Kearse said. "With him, it's just been, what's meant to happen is going to
Bland broke the record when he jumped a sideline route against Washington, and
brought Sam Howell's pass back 63 yards, breaking Howell's attempt at a tackle
and sidestepping receiver Terry McLaurin and running back Brian Robinson Jr.,
who collided around the 10-yard line trying to bring Bland down.
"To witness something like that from such a down to earth, young player, a
genuine guy. He's a quiet kid. And he just comes to work," Kearse said. "The
right person did it, a guy that's deserving, that came in and went straight to
work from day one."
Kearse is in his eighth season, still looking for his first pick-6. So he
chuckled at being asked what he sees as the key to bringing an interception all
the way back.
"I don't know," Kearse said with a smile. "He's the right guy to talk to when
it comes to that. Whatever he says, it's law."
Anyone listening will have to lean in for Bland's answer. It won't be very loud.
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