FRISCO, Texas – For all of the positive storylines and surprises that came from the Cowboys' 2022 regular season, and there were plenty of them, rookie cornerback DaRon Bland ranks among the highest.
The fifth-round draft choice became a near-instant contributor, especially following season-ending injuries to both Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown. Bland went on to lead the team with five interceptions in 17 games and eight starts.
But on Monday morning, all of that had washed away with the Cowboys' 19-12 loss to the 49ers on Sunday in the NFC Divisional Round. Bland stood by his locker at The Star in Frisco, ready to answer any and all questions thrown his way.
And as expected, his incredible inaugural campaign in the NFL paled in comparison to the anguish brought on by his first experience of a playoff loss, with his focus squarely on processing the end of the season.
"Right now, not so much," Bland said when asked if he had thought about his contributions this season. "Still thinking about the loss. I'm not thinking about the total season yet. I haven't had time to think about the whole season.
The whole season for Bland was quite good. Hidden on the depth chart during training camp, the Fresno State product quickly began to turn heads during practice with his knack for finding the football and his aggressive ability to swarm to the receiver.
But then when injuries struck, Bland was called upon in a big way. He had never played the nickel corner position, but did so out of an abundance of necessity with Lewis going down midseason. Bland excelled at that, before being moved back out to his more natural position when Brown got hurt.
Whatever the Cowboys needed out of Bland this season, he provided, and did so with fantastic results.
"It was actually fun playing inside and outside," Bland said. "Just different views and more action on the inside than outside. … More field-awareness. Wherever they put me, I'll take the job."
Bland admitted there were times when he was unsure of himself playing out of position while still trying to learn the NFL.
"A lot, especially coming from college, a bigger stage, and then also playing nickel," Bland said of his confidence. "It was a new position so my confidence was wavering a little bit."
Like any rookie, Bland's successful campaign didn't come without the help of his coaches and teammates. He credited defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and defensive backs coach Al Harris for their influence on him, as well as the embrace he felt from his peers and the connections they made.
"It was tremendous," Bland said of the impact of his coaches. "I probably wouldn't even know how good I would be. But they made me a smarter football player.
"I can't really say who made the biggest impact because it was kind of like everybody made an effort. My teammates, my coaches had been really building my confidence this year."
Reality began to set in for not just Bland but an entire Cowboys roster who more than embraced their team mantra of "resilience." Together, they overcame a mountain of adversity, culminating with their win over the Buccaneers in the Super Wild Card round for the franchise first road playoff win in three decades.
And for a team that wore their resiliency on their sleeve, few players this season embodied that more than the Cowboys' rookie cornerback. But now, unfortunately, reality has struck as the offseason begins.
"It goes so quick. You don't really have time to think about it," Bland said.