FRISCO, Texas - It's hard to rank levels of frustration on a team that just suffered a devastating playoff loss, but if one were to attempt to guess which Cowboys got the least amount of sleep Sunday night Morris Claiborne would probably be right up there with anybody.
Claiborne had spent over two months recovering from a groin injury in which he claimed a piece of bone was "torn off" of his pelvis Oct. 30.
His goal was to be ready for the playoffs and he accomplished that goal when he started versus the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately for him, he injured his ribs in the first half. Combine that with the various injuries he was recovering from and the thought of him continuing to try to defend Green Bay's passing attack was untenable. He left the game with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
"It was just a sequence of things that went on from my groin to my back and stuff like that," Claiborne said after the game. "I can honestly say that in the first half I left it all out there."
Injuries have been a constant hindrance throughout Claiborne's five-year career, but this year was different for one reason: When Claiborne was on the field, 2016 felt like his breakout season. The jury was still out on his value coming into this season—especially considering his first round draft selection—but Claiborne was excellent for a secondary that was surprisingly effective when healthy.
While the Cowboys' offense was loaded with talent, Claiborne said the defense knew they had to hold up their end of the bargain this year. "We don't want to be called the weak link," he reflected. "That's why we go out and practice the way we practice and work the way we work."
Unfortunately his body didn't agree with all of his goals. In the locker room after the game, Claiborne admitted that he was in a significant amount of pain in the first half.
"I got some medicine before the game, but I kind of think I wore all that off in the pregame," he said. "It was pretty tough. I can't even lie. But I never told anyone. I just kept going and kept going until I couldn't no more."
Injuries don't take the emotional toll on Claiborne that they used to. He knows what is required to recover from an injury and at this point, it's just part of his job.
"It used to be frustrating, but it's not anymore," Claiborne said. "I know how to come back from it. God put me in these situations for a reason. I'm always going to fight. I'm never going to give up. I've been putting the frustration aside and just recognizing and accept where I'm at."
Frustration and physical pain are the specific tribulations that come from injuries, but to Claiborne his resolve was just a reflection of the Cowboys' mindset all year.
"That's been our identity all year," he said after the playoff loss. "To never give up. Never stop fighting. Fight until the end. That's what we did today. At the end it didn't end up coming out our way, but we left it all out there."
Claiborne will be an unrestricted free agent this off-season. His increased level of play would normally be enough to assume the Cowboys would have a strong interest in making him a part of their future, but injury history is something any front office would take a long look at. Claiborne says all he can do is wait and see.
"I'm letting it come however it [comes]," he said. "It is what it is at this point. I can just continue doing what I'm doing on my end. The rest will take care of itself."
See some of our favorite photos from practice at Ford Center at The Star on Thursday, January 5.