In the fourth quarter last Sunday, Saints quarterback Drew Brees stood in the shotgun formation on third-down and five at the Browns' 31-yard line. New Orleans was readying to milk the clock, kick a field goal and leave Cleveland the winner of an absolute dog fight.
All they needed was one more completion.
Browns defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil barked the play into his headset, which is wired into linebacker Karlos Dansby's helmet. Cleveland was dialing up something exotic to stop New Orleans in its tracks: a blitz from Dansby right up the middle.
A few seconds before Brees snapped the ball, Dansby picked up on the fact that the Brees had slid the protection of his offensive linemen. Dansby realized he was going to be able to race untouched up the middle.
By now, you know the outcome. Dansby wrapped up Brees, slung him onto the turf, forcing the Saints to punt. Brian Hoyer led the Browns down the field and Billy Cundiff kicked the game-winning field goal.
"I knew [Brees] wasn't going to be able to get away from me," said Dansby, nonchalantly, sitting on a leather chair in front of his locker on Wednesday.
There are so many motives behind Mike Pettine practically begging the Buffalo Bills front office to sign Dansby in 2013. When the chance arose again this past offseason, there would be no excuses: Cleveland needed Dansby on the roster, period. Defensive success overall would begin with the 32-year-old starring as the MIKE linebacker in Pettine and O'Neil's scheme. The position in this system allows Dansby to be the playmaker and go and get the football. But the big plays would be predicated on his smarts and his intangibles.
"[Karlos] can be a leader, take charge of the huddle, that is smart, can know the package inside and out, if guys have to be moved or calls need to be changed or check made that he's capable doing it," said Pettine.
"It's just natural, man," said Dansby about his intelligence on the field. "I was always the leader. I was always picking the teams. Everybody always wanted me to pick the teams [as a kid]."
Dansby doesn't want you to get his leadership style twisted. He's shy and doesn't initiate many conversations. He's a not a big "rah-rah" guy, in terms of motivating his own teammates.
"When you change teams, you just got to be yourself," said Dansby. "The attitude and your approach to everything you do. You just got to be consistent. Guys will see it. If your attitude is contagious enough, it will start to spread. It's spreading. We have a lot of confidence in this defense right now."
Browns fans may be surprised with how impactful Dansby has been. That's because Dansby's impact has been glaringly omitted as some of the NFL's best. BleacherReport.com detailed an interesting chart, showcasing Dansby's numbers since 2007 have been nearly identical to San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, and in some cases, even better. The difference? Willis has seven Pro Bowls; Dansby has zero. Dansby joked he's never had this much media attention before and he appreciates the love from the Cleveland media.
His teammates have not been startled by how the linebacker has taken control of the Browns' defense.
"He's done everything he's been doing all over his career," said Donte Whitner. "Last year he had four interceptions and six sacks. So he's not doing anything different than he's been doing. He's just been overlooked for so many offseason awards like the Pro Bowl and being up for Defensive Player of the Year. He's doing everything he's always done."
"I am in the backend [of my career]," Dansby admitted. "But my play, I just hope it inspires people to play the same way. Inspire everybody else to take their game to another level. I'm going to play this thing out. I'm healthy. I'm strong. I'm having fun. Every Sunday, I try and give it everything I've got."
If this is the "backend" of Dansby's career, that's a scary thought. At 32 years old, he's playing like he's fresh out of college.