TORONTO — He’s a perennial Super Bowl champion and regarded by many as the greatest quarterback in NFL history. But those are also some of the reasons why defensive linemen like Canadian Tyrone Crawford look forward to facing Tom Brady.
Brady, 40, leads the New England Patriots into the Super Bowl on Sunday versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Brady and Co. will chase a second straight NFL title and record-tying sixth overall.
“In the game I’m more licking my lips and thinking, ‘Come on man, I’ve got to get to him,’” Crawford said in an interview Friday. “When you go up against quarterbacks like him, (Aaron) Rodgers, Russell Wilson and guys who’ve made a name for themselves in the NFL, you want to hit them hard.
“You want to let them know, ‘Here I am. This is the Dallas Cowboys defensive line and boom, boom. We’re hitting you at all different angles.’ “
But that doesn’t diminish the respect Crawford, 28, of Windsor, Ont., has for Brady.
“Those are the type of guys I love seeing,” Crawford said. ”I love knowing the story behind them and the type of athlete and competitor he is, it’s amazing to me.
“We all aspire to have that type of mindset and ambition and he’s got it, man. There’s no taking that guy down.”
Well, there is, actually, as one of Crawford’s 16.5 career NFL sacks was of Brady in a 30-6 Patriots win over Dallas in 2015.
The 2017 season was a disappointing one for Dallas. After winning the NFC East in 2016 with a 13-3 record, Dallas (9-7) finished behind Philadelphia (13-3) and missed the playoffs.
To many, the drama surrounding running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension — Dallas went 3-3 without him — was a factor in the downfall. Others felt quarterback Dak Prescott wasn’t as dominant as he was as a rookie in 2016.
But the six-foot-four, 290-pound Crawford, entering his seventh season with Dallas, felt the defence simply didn’t play well enough when it had to.
“It (Elliott suspension) was not a distraction,” he said. “A couple of games we couldn’t let slip away, we let them slip and I feel like in those games our defence didn’t play like we should.
“We missed (linebacker) Shawn Lee (for three games). It shouldn’t be an excuse but he’s one of the motors and the quarterback of our defence so that hurt us a bit. We just needed to play better at the times it counted and those games counted against us.”
Crawford will put on a brave face Sunday when the arch-rival Eagles play in the Super Bowl. Crawford will watch the game in Toronto, meeting fans at one of nearly 50 Cineplex theatres across Canada that will carry the game live with a $5 admission charge for those wishing to attend.
“It’s tough (watching the Eagles) because we play them twice a year and they’ve become one of our biggest rivals,” Crawford said. “But I’ve got friends on their defensive line, Fletcher Cox and those guys, and I definitely want to see them do well.
“But if they lose, I won’t be sad.”
One of Dallas’s biggest off-season questions is the future of defensive lineman DeMarcus Lawrence, a pending free agent. Lawrence — a 2014 second-round pick from Boise State, Crawford’s alma mater — was a Pro Bowl selection after registering 14 1/2 sacks.
“I definitely want to see DeMarcus back,” Crawford said. “It’s definitely a difficult situation but I feel like the Joneses (owner Jerry Jones and CEO Stephen Jones) love a good pass rusher and DeMarcus is a good pass rusher.
“Going forward with this defence, if we get him back we should have a fun time on defence.”
But the harsh reality of the NFL is if one player gets a huge raise then a team might have to juggle its roster to meet the league’s $178-million salary cap. Crawford signed a five-year, $45-million ($17.425 million guaranteed) extension with Dallas in 2015 but isn’t worrying about what might happen if Lawrence re-signs.
“I’m just doing what I came to do and that’s just play football,” he said. “There are people we need on our team and fortunately or unfortunately those guys have high price tags.
“But I know it can be done because I see other teams — Jacksonville, Buffalo, Pittsburgh — who are paying multiple people big contracts so I know it’s possible. We just have to figure out how to do it.”