MONDAY NOTES: Leighton Vander Esch's star is rising

Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (81) is tackled by Cowboys outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas mourns teammate's loss; Collins made unheralded, crucial play.

Cowboys rookie Leighton Vander Esch continues to prove his value in the absence of injured teammate Sean Lee.

Dallas drafted Vander Esch with the 19th pick of the draft last spring and much was made on Sunday of the Cowboys choosing him instead of wide receiver Calvin Ridley of Alabama. Dallas had recently parted ways with wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten retired for a spot in the broadcasting booth. But the Cowboys went with defense and the Falcons drafted Ridley seven picks later.

Vander Esch showed why the Cowboys liked him so much as he made 8 total tackles, intercepted a pass and deflected 3 more in Sunday’s victory in Atlanta. The rookie linebacker from Boise State has now intercepted passes in two straight games and he ranks third in the NFL in solo tackles with 65.

A year ago, the Cowboys record suffered when Lee was out of the lineup due to injury. Lee is hurt again this time around, but there’s been a reversal in Dallas’s fortune with him on the sideline. The Cowboys are 4-1 when Vander Esch starts.

GALLUP, COWBOYS MOURN TRAGEDY: Following the Cowboys’ dramatic walk-off field goal victory on Sunday, Dallas owner Jerry Jones reported a somber mood in the Cowboys’ locker room due to a tragedy. Jones did not elaborate on the cause, but reports surfaced by Monday that wide receiver Michael Gallup learned while at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that his brother had died.

Gallup, who was born in Atlanta and grew up in nearby Monroe, Ga., had family at the game. Gallup’s sister told him of their brother’s apparent suicide in the locker room following the win, according to 247 Sports reporter Mike Fisher. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett confirmed in a radio interview on 105.3 The Fan that the team learned of Gallup’s brother’s suicide after the game.

Gallup, who has 16 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown so far in his rookie season, didn’t travel home with the team, but remained in Atlanta with his family according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

THE LOW KEY PLAY OF THE GAME: Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins was not credited with a rushing attempt or any rushing yards, but he picked up a fumble and made a heads-up play that was vital to Dallas’s victory over the Falcons on Sunday.

When Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott fumbled on and third-and-1 from the Dallas 45, Collins grabbed the loose ball and, instead of just falling on it, he lunged forward to the 47. Collins’s two-yard effort converted the third down and kept the Cowboys moving on their way to a go-ahead touchdown. Quarterback Dak Prescott finished the march with a four-yard touchdown run that put the Cowboys in front, 12-9. That drive, the first to reach the end zone for either team at that point, started a major momentum shift in the Cowboys’ win.

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