Micah Parsons didn’t look or sound like a man whose team had just completed a thrilling walk-off overtime win on the road in a hostile environment. The Cowboys had escaped Gillette Stadium with a 35-29 victory, but the rookie linebacker wasn’t particularly happy with his own contributions.
“I’m upset with myself,” Parsons said that afternoon in New England. “I want to play better, make better plays, more impactful plays throughout the game. It just comes with the game. Some days you’re going to be on, some days you’re not. I’m not going to say I had a bad game; there are just some things I want to fix, I can do better at. And I just have to do it.”
Most NFL players use the bye to rest, to recover physically from the wear and tear that the game inflicts. Parsons used the week off to change some of his work habits, to re-dedicate his mind to what still lies ahead for this Dallas team… and to upgrade his wardrobe.
“I was up in New York for a little bit,” Parsons said this week at The Star in Frisco. “Got me some clothes for my walk-in on game day… I had to go get right.”
But the 22-year-old wasn’t content to simply come back to work and hope that a look-good-feel-good-play-good approach would be sufficient in elevating his performance on the field.
“I was telling Coach, ‘Man, thank God for this bye week,” Parsons explained. “I had the whole week to rest my body, get my mind right, and [address] some things that I wanted to fix about my game. You get a chance to self-scout yourself, see how you’re doing your first six weeks and how you want to finish the year.”
It’s hard to imagine Parsons doing more on the field than he already is. He ranks third on the team on total tackles and second in sacks, this despite playing two different positions in his first two games as a pro. It’s not every rookie linebacker who can just start an NFL game at defensive line (for the first time since high school) to cover for injured teammates.
Micah Parsons played defensive end for the first time since high school…
He had 8 pressures (most by a rookie since Nick Bosa in 2019) pic.twitter.com/ZIssNNoDFB
— PFF (@PFF) September 20, 2021
But still, the player who has likened himself to The Terminator felt he needed to make some minor tune-ups to his operating system.
“Just me as a person, just the little things, the details that we talk about, like taking care of your body,” he said. “I saw how better my body felt after coming in, I want to keep it that way. So, starting this week, I was like, ‘Coach, I gotta do something different. I felt like I was going through, like, a slump early. I had to fight my way out of it.’ So I came in the building about an hour earlier than I usually did. You know, doing things like taking advantage of my time more. Instead of just lounging around, playing basketball in locker room, I was actually utilizing my time that I had here rather what I was doing before. It’s just the little things that I want to do to see if it makes a difference in how I play… This is a mental game.”
Not that he was slacking before, by anyone else’s measure. But as is true in every sport, if an athlete even believes he’s “off,” that’s enough. Parsons even went so far as to use that S-word that many players don’t like to say out loud.
“Yeah, mental slump. You know, you just can’t seem to get out of this funk. I just found myself just, like, not being me. You start thinking a lot more. I just felt like I’ve got to do more.”
So he started showing up at the team facility earlier than expected. If a meeting was scheduled for 7:30, he says, he’d arrive by 6. He’s been multitasking: if he’s logging some time in the hot tub, he’s also watching game film on his phone.
Making the most of every minute. Looking for ways to maximize every opportunity. Never being satisfied with what’s already happened… like not letting a lackluster personal showing slide just because the team came out on top.
“Obviously, you want to do more,” Parsons said. “If you go out there and you play okay, some people will be okay with that. ‘I had an okay game; we won.’ But I don’t think Michael Jordan would ever be okay with dropping 15 points and be like, ‘We won.’ I think Michael Jordan’s going to be like, ‘Man, I dropped like…’ You ever seen the video with the center and he had a great first quarter- he had 12 points- but that’s all he had the rest of the game? [Jordan] was like, ‘You need to do that the whole game.’ So I think no one should be okay with just playing okay. I should have a higher expectation for myself and I think the coaches have the same expectations. I think that was weighing in on me.”
Micah Parsons was frustrated after the Patriots game: “I had an OK game and we won. But I don’t think Michael Jordan would ever be OK with dropping 15 points and they won … I should have a higher expectation for myself.”
Parsons then mentioned this video pic.twitter.com/uwMPOEZz0u
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 29, 2021
“I mean, I just always remember it’s a long football game. And I think that’s why I always try to play full-speed, just because you never know: that play really might be a play. It could be tipped up, and you get it. Somebody could tackle, and the ball comes out, you could scoop it up. Anything could be that game-changing play to help your team win. And you’ve just got to find a way to get through it and, even if you mess up, always get that ‘next play’ mentality. When you’re young, sometimes it could weigh on you, with a lot of people are looking upon you to do everything right. So it was something that I had to fix personally.”
Some new suits. Coming in early. Finding ways to keep pushing himself, both physically and mentally.
“It’s just all about ‘Keep growing,’” Parsons admitted, “understanding you’ve got a long way to go.”
But even that long way to go has undergone a bit of a shift in the linebacker’s mind. The Cowboys schedule says they have 11 games left to play.
Parsons was quick to make a correction to that.
“Fourteen,” he interrupted.
He’s including the NFC Divisional Round, the NFC Championship Game, and Super Bowl LVI.
“I’m thinking long-term.”
It is, indeed, a mental game.