ARLINGTON, Texas – On the opening drive of the second half Sunday, cornerback Mo Claiborne was flagged for pass interference on what appeared to be a pass breakup against A.J. Green.
Three plays later, Claiborne made perhaps his most impressive play this season in what's becoming his most impressive stretch of football as a Cowboy.
Lined up against the Bengals' star receiver again on third down, he chased Green 30 yards into the end zone and leaped to knock down Andy Dalton's pass – this time, penalty free. Cincinnati missed the ensuing field goal, preserving the Cowboys' shutout in an eventual 28-14 victory at AT&T Stadium.
"He ran like an out route, a seven," Claiborne said. "I kind of cut it off and he turned it up the field. I tried my best to run him down and get back to him, turn around and play the football."
You might say, on a much smaller scale, the three-play stretch embodied Claiborne's resilience since entering the league with great expectations as the 2012 sixth overall pick.
Claiborne's battles with injuries are well-documented. He missed 23 games in his first four seasons, including 12 games two years ago with a devastating torn patellar tendon in his left knee.
He fought his way back through diligent rehab with the athletic training staff. Five games into the 2016 season, he's playing the best football of his pro career.
The latest challenge was Green, the league's leader in catches entering Week 5. Claiborne and the Cowboys' defense held him to four catches for 50 yards.
"I knew that was going to be a challenge, challenging that guy on both ends," Claiborne said. "Even when he's over there on Brandon's side, Brandon (Carr) did a good job on him. When he came into the slot, the safeties did a good job with him. That was our whole game plan.
"We know they like to go deep to him, throw the ball to him, get those deep plays, and he's a great player. I know our DB's are not going to back down from no one, no matter how much respect you've got for their game. We respect you, but we're coming to lace our shoes up."
So far this season, Claiborne and the secondary have faced elite receivers such as Green, Odell Beckham, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. None caught more than 5 passes (Jeffrey) for 73 yards (Beckham).
It's collective effort with Claiborne leading the way, despite veteran Orlando Scandrick's recent three-game absence with injuries to both hamstrings.
"I'm not surprised at all," Claiborne said. "This is what I've worked for. This is what I pray every day for. This is what I lay it out on the line for to go out and just try to make plays when I can for my teammates. I hate to put it on just being healthy, but it is. When you don't have nagging injuries bothering you, you're not uncomfortable with certain things hurting, you can just go out and play. I just thank God for my strength and keeping me healthy at this point."
Said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones: "He has met his challenges, and that makes it even more impressive. He's gotten better out there. He's gotten more strength. He overcame his injuries. I think all of those things are coming to bear out there with the kind of season he's having."