Adrian Clayborn trudged down the Buccaneers sideline, past the cart that was waiting to transport him to the locker room.
Tampa Bay's second-year defensive end was going to try and tough it out after injuring his right knee early in the fourth quarter, but eventually relented. By the time the locker room opened after the game, Clayborn had a brace on his leg as he limped out the door.
Head coach Greg Schiano said the Bucs won't know the extent of Clayborn's injury until Monday, but fellow end Michael Bennett became emotional when talking about the early prognosis.
"I lost one of my best friends on the team today, Adrian Clayborn, and I would give anything to get him back on the team,'' said Bennett, his eyes tearing up.
When Bennett began answering another question, he paused in mid-sentence and said he was too upset to continue.
Clayborn was hurt as DT Gerald McCoy sacked Tony Romo for a 7-yard loss. He remained on the turf of Cowboys Stadium for several minutes before walking off slowly under his own power.
Clayborn led the Bucs with 7 1/2 sacks as a rookie last season. Tampa Bay lost Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph for the year with a knee injury in the preseason.
"I'm praying for A.C.,'' Bucs LT Donald Penn said. "I hope he's alright. If he's not, it's going to be huge.''
Still not backing down
One week after Bucs coach Greg Schiano caused controversy by instructing his defense to try to force a fumble as Giants QB Eli Manning took a knee on the final play, Tampa Bay's rookie head coach went a step further against Dallas.
The Cowboys, leading by six points, took possession with 40 seconds left in the game after a failed onside kick attempt by the Bucs. Tampa Bay not only played aggressively on the next snap, but twice called timeout in the final 14 seconds, forcing Romo to take a knee three times.
"We need to stop being known for the kneel-down play and start being known for winning football games, tight football games,'' Schiano said.
A week ago, Giants coach Tom Coughlin fussed at Schiano as the two met at midfield for their postgame handshake. Though the Bucs' tactics were booed by the fans at Cowboys Stadium, Dallas coach Jason Garrett did not appear bothered, shaking Schiano's hand without incident.
In the fire
Two prized rookie defensive backs crossed paths Sunday as Bucs S Mark Barron and Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne were tested in a tense three-hour, 22-minute duel.
Barron, who had been linked to Dallas before the draft, was credited with six tackles and one pass breakup while Claiborne posted one stop after being flagged for pass interference against WR Arrelious Benn on Tampa Bay's second offensive snap.
Coming off a 27-7 loss at Seattle, the Cowboys hounded Josh Freeman into a 45.2 passer rating.
"We stepped it up, we were way better than last week,'' Claiborne said after his first regular-season home game. "As a unit, we could just feel the difference in the way we were playing.''
On the board
Second-year TE Luke Stocker opened the scoring with his first NFL touchdown, catching a 1-yard pass from Freeman off a fake handoff to rookie Doug Martin.
"It felt good at the time, but unfortunately we lost the game,'' Stocker said. "I wasn't the primary receiver on the play. The running back was supposed to get the first look, but their linebacker (Bruce Carter) bit on the play. I got behind him and Josh made a great throw. I would have loved to have come out with a win.''
Facing the best
Bucs LT Donald Penn took the loss particularly hard, blaming himself for a key letdown midway through the fourth quarter, with Dallas clinging to a 13-7 advantage.
With the Bucs facing third-and-4 from their 15-yard line, Freeman lined up in the shotgun and Pro Bowl OLB DeMarcus Ware burst past Penn for a sack and a strip from Freeman's blind side, with Penn falling on the fumble at the 1-yard line.
Dez Bryant's ensuing 44-yard punt return led to a field goal and a two-score lead.
"I've got to give Josh more time,'' Penn said. "I gave up a big third-down sack and I'm a better player than that. It shouldn't happen.''
Penn was reminded that Ware, who finished with two sacks and two forced fumbles, ranks as one of the NFL's premier pass rushers.
"Yeah, that's right, but I'm pretty darned good myself,'' Penn said. "I've got to stand up and block longer. I've done it before – against him. That was the wrong moment to fail.''
The clubs combined for 23 penalties, including four flags against Cowboys RT Doug Free, making for a sloppy matchup in front of a crowd of 81,984 as replacement officials worked the game.
In the third quarter, the Bucs won two challenges and were awarded possession when replay officials ruled Dallas QB Tony Romo fumbled after being sacked.
"The refs are doing a great job,'' McCoy said. "Everybody wants to complain, but people just need to accept that the refs are who they are. No ref wants to go out there and just make a bad call. It is what it is. I'm sure when the real refs are back, people are going to complain still.''
On the final play of the first half, the Bucs used 6-foot-5 WR Vincent Jackson as a defender in the end zone as QB Tony Romo launched a pass from midfield that was batted down by S Mark Barron. …The Bucs punted on eight consecutive possessions before Barth's field goal with 40 seconds remaining. …Tampa Bay had won 13 of its past 14 games when holding its opponent to 20 points or less. …The Bucs limited Dallas to 38 yards on the ground and opponents are averaging only 2.3 yards per carry through three weeks.