ST. LOUIS – Two of the Cowboys' most criticized defenders made two of the most critical plays in the fourth quarter to secure a win Sunday against the Rams.
With the Cowboys leading by three points, linebacker Bruce Carter picked off a pass from Austin Davis for his first career interception and returned it for a touchdown. After the Rams answered with a score, cornerback Morris Claiborne foiled a chance for St. Louis to tie or win with a game-sealing pick with 1:11 remaining.
"I think it's a sign of maturity for both those guys to be able to do that," said head coach Jason Garrett. "They made some plays. They made some plays on our guys outside early on in the ballgame, and they had to wipe it clean.
"There's probably no position, maybe other than quarterback, that you have to do that as much as the cornerback position in this league, because you're out there on an island and the guys on the other side are good. I thought our guys outside really battled back, and obviously Mo made a significant play at the end of the game to ice it for us."
Claiborne admittedly struggled throughout the game, as Davis picked on him and his side more than once. But the corner got the last laugh as he secured his first interception of the season on a first down pass intended for Brian Quick, who had blown by him earlier in the game in the second quarter on a 51-yard touchdown pass.
"Sometimes, you give up plays," Claiborne said. "That's life, that's the NFL. It's what you do afterward, and you have to go make plays."
On a day with a lot of big plays, Claiborne made perhaps the biggest.
The Rams trailed by three points on their final drive and would have neared field goal range had Quick made the catch on Claiborne, but it was the corner who sprawled out and came down with the pass on a route up the sideline.
"You have to put the previous play to bed and go on to the next one," Garrett said. "It's what the best players do – it's what the best teams do. It's a sign of mental toughness – clean the slate and get ready for the next challenge."
Claiborne had a tough day for three and a half quarters and said there were a lot of plays he left on the field. That last interception wasn't one of them, though, and the clutch pick was one he said he needed.
But to him, the play didn't erase the issues he had earlier in the game.
"Not in my eyes," Claiborne said. "It seemed to do that for everybody else, but not in my eyes. I'm ready to go learn from this tape and try to get better from it. Like I told the DBs, no matter what the outcome, I can't go out and play like that. We want to be the No. 1 defense in the league. On my end, I can't go out like that."
That Claiborne play may never have been possible without Carter's interception for a touchdown to give the Cowboys a 10-point lead with six minutes left in the game.
Carter said he's been feeling good on the field, which he believes is a result of having more fun regardless of what's happening around him. After a strong year in 2012, Carter admittedly had a down season in 2013 and has since shifted from position to position at linebacker until finding more of a stable spot on the strong side. Without Rolando McClain or Justin Durant, the Rams had some success moving the ball on the Cowboys' linebackers, but the Carter play made up for that late. [embedded_ad]
He credited the pressure on the quarterback for allowing him to get his first career interception.
"I don't know if he was throwing off his back foot or not, but I don't think he could actually see who he was throwing to," Carter said. "I just slid right in there and was able to make the good play. It all worked out well."
Carter had left earlier in the game after getting hit in the head, saying he felt dizzy momentarily but passed a variety of concussion tests on the sideline. He returned in a major way with the pick-six he took back 25 yards to the house.
"I was pleased to see you had redeeming plays – guys that had made negative plays, and then all of a sudden you've got guys making plays that make the difference," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "It was great to see No. 54 striding in that end zone. Those guys – those backs and receivers weren't going to catch him when he's got the ball."