ATLANTA — If you are young and a member of the Dallas Cowboys, chances are something bad happened to you recently.
That is, unless your name is Morris Claiborne or Bruce Carter.
While clouds hang over the heads of youngsters plagued by either injuries (DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee), legal/family issues (Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith) or mistake-riddled play (Bryant), life for Claiborne and Carter just keeps getting better.
Tonight, the Cowboys need the two sons of the South to shine in the Georgia Dome.
Claiborne, a first-round pick from LSU, and fellow cornerback Brandon Carr will be charged with slowing down Atlanta’s dynamic receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan agree Claiborne seems up to the tall task after watching him record five tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery in last week’s loss to the Giants.
Claiborne is the only Dallas defender to record turnovers in back-to-back games this season. Two weeks ago, he intercepted a pass in the end zone in the win at Carolina.
“If you look at him over the course of the season, you’ve seen him grow physically and also in his demeanor and how aggressive he’s playing,” Garrett said. “There were a couple of plays against the Giants where he’s making tackles, and he’s really consciously trying to rip the ball out.
“The ball didn’t come out, but his mentality is that of a playmaker. And in relation to the football on the back end, that’s a real positive for us. He’s grown right before our eyes.”
Told Claiborne’s confidence level seems to increase each game, Ryan said, “Doesn’t it jump off the tape that way? The game is really starting to slow down for Mo. And he’s just going to get better and better.”
The same can be said of Carter, a second-year inside linebacker from North Carolina who also excelled against the Giants, notching seven tackles, a tackle for loss and one pass breakup. With Lee out, Carter also called the defensive signals.
It was a remarkable performance, considering that a year ago last week, Carter made his NFL debut after starting his rookie season in the trainer’s room rehabbing a knee injury left over from his senior year.
“It’s a whole lot different,” said Carter, who was limited to special-teams duty against Philadelphia on Oct. 30, 2011. “Last year, I was nervous playing in my first NFL game. This year, I’m really in the mix.”
Garrett said Carter played “particularly well” against the Giants.
“He handled his communication role and did a good job covering and running to the ball and making hits on the ball,” Garrett said.
Like Claiborne, Carter has a tough matchup tonight, facing future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
“It’s going to be our biggest challenge of the season,” Carter said of facing the Falcons, who average nearly 30 points a game. “But we’ve got to go in there, stick together and fight our way through.”
Count on Claiborne and Carter swinging to the very end.