PHILADELPHIA — Morris Claiborne remembered the last time he was penalized five times in a game: Never.
In his last year at LSU, Claiborne was penalized just once.
On Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie cornerback was flagged twice for being offsides and three times for holding a wide receiver. He also gave up a touchdown, on an incredible one-handed catch by Riley Cooper in the first quarter.
But Claiborne is a talented player who had a bad day during the Cowboys’ 38-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I think that I had a rough game out there and did not play my best," Claiborne said. "I got a lot of penalties called on me and I just have to learn from that. I just need to go back and get it fixed."
When opposing teams watch tape of the rookie, they see he’s pressing receivers and not getting much deep help. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan trusts his rookie corner to make plays in the passing game, and that’s the smart thing to do.
After Claiborne struggled Sunday, you begin to wonder if more teams will take advantage.
The Cowboys can’t afford for Claiborne to lose confidence, and that doesn’t seem to be the case judging from his reaction in the locker room. He was joking with Brandon Carr, who picked up his first Cowboys interception and first career interception return for a touchdown, that he will end the 2012 season with more turnovers.
"I have seen him grow on the field and as a man off the field," Carr said. "I expect big things from him his whole career."
The word "turnovers" is a delicate one around the Cowboys these days. The conversation can quickly take a turn to focus on the word "takeover" instead.
Ryan wants his defense to take over games, and getting turnovers will do it. This team doesn’t get enough of them, but with the season on the line the Cowboys responded with Carr’s pick and a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Jason Hatcher to close the show.
There should have been a few more. Orlando Scandrick let two balls bounce off him that could have easily been picks.
At one point during Claiborne’s day, Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin screamed at the rookie as he laid on the ground after being penalized again for holding.
After Claiborne got up, nose tackle Jay Ratliff said something to the rookie.
It’s all love. Or tough love.
"They were just picking me up and pushing me to just make the next play," Claiborne said. "It lifted me up and I just kept going. I just left it all out on the field. I play good angry and I knew I needed to make up for some penalties and was able to do that."
Claiborne has to fix his issues quickly because the Cowboys have a feeling they can make a run in the second half of the season.
It seems inexcusable to get two offsides calls as a cornerback, but Claiborne is trying to press receivers quickly and redirect their routes.
"I got a little caught up in it," he said. "Just trying to get down and get my hands on [the receiver], and the refs said he was yelling at me, but hell I didn’t hear him."
Three of Claiborne’s five penalties led to scores — two touchdowns and a field goal. There was another costly penalty, in which he was called for holding a receiver on the other side of the field that negated an interception by Anthony Spencer.
"That really kind of dropped me," Claiborne said. "I can’t believe he called it."
Claiborne isn’t going to get benched as the season enters the late stages. He’s going to get chewed out for mistakes, but the confidence is high that he will make plays.
He gets another chance to prove himself next week against the Cleveland Browns.
"I can’t take that as me being a young corner," he said. "Because I have to go out and play. I’m out here with all these veterans and they expect me to go out there and play. The rookie stuff, all of that stuff is overblown. I don’t take it as learning, I got to go out and play if we want to be the best secondary in this league, I can’t go out and play like that.
"You won’t see another performance like that from me."