ARLINGTON, Texas — Before Sunday, the last time Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr played safety was in 2002.
That was for Carman-Ainsworth High School in Carr’s hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Even then, Carr’s tenure at safety was brief.
“Probably about 10 snaps,” Carr said. “In life.”
Yet there was Carr starting at free safety in an NFL game. He played much of the game against Tampa Bay at safety while Mike Jenkins took most of his snaps at corner.
And that was just fine with Carr because the final score was Dallas 16, Tampa Bay 10.
“I can see myself doing whatever it takes, as long as at the end of the game we’ve got the most points,” Carr said. “Whatever position they try to put me at or whatever my role is, it’s fine with me as long as we’ve got the best 11 players on the field and as long as we’re winning football games.”
The “whatever it takes” attitude was infectious on a Dallas defense that was run over by Seattle in last week’s 27-7 loss.
When the Cowboys’ offense continued to sputter and spit up the football against the Buccaneers, this time the defense responded. Tampa Bay produced just 166 yards of offense and couldn’t take full advantage of three turnovers provided by the Dallas offense.
“The defense bailed us out,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “Our defense was just outstanding all day and arguably won the game for us.”
The defense didn’t save the day every time. The Cowboys’ first possession ended in an interception at their own 29. Tampa Bay eventually found the end zone in six plays, but that merely stoked the fire in the Cowboys’ defense that had been smoldering since Seattle.
“We were disappointed early on that we weren’t able to stop them on that first drive after the sudden change,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “So we took it personally on the sidelines and said hey, we’re going to stop them the next time they have a shot.”
Lee really took it personally. He came up with an interception on Tampa Bay’s next drive.
When Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, under siege most of the day, coughed up the ball twice in the third quarter, the Dallas defense was a stone wall.
The first fumble came at the Tampa Bay 19 and resulted in a punt. The next fumble was more treacherous at the Dallas 31, but again the defense pushed back and the Bucs were forced to punt from the 41.
“We were put into some tough situations and we were able to overcome it,” Carr said.
“Last week we were pretty much sick. I mean, the whole locker room, everybody was disappointed in our performance. Today was all about starting fast and playing the whole 60 minutes, keeping the pedal down as a defense.”
Starting Carr at safety was a big key to keeping the Bucs’ passing game in check. The Cowboys gave Carr a lot of money in free agency in the offseason to shore up the problems at corner, but injury problems at safety created an even more pressing need Sunday.
During the week, it was speculated that Jenkins, relegated to a third cornerback role with the addition of Carr and first round pick Morris Claiborne, might see some snaps at safety. Jenkins played just eight snaps the previous week since coming back from a shoulder injury that caused him to sit out offseason drills and training camp.
With Carr playing center field and Jenkins lined up on the dangerous Vincent Jackson most of the game, the Bucs managed just 91 yards on 10-of-28 passing by Freeman. Jackson finished with one catch for 29 yards.
“The secondary was unbelievable today, guys moving around, being able to play, you know guys like Brandon Carr moving to safety,” Lee said. “Guys like Mike Jenkins who haven’t played a lot. He didn’t play in camp and came in and played unbelievable for us.”
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan cooked up the scheme of playing Carr at safety and was pleased with the results.
“He did a great job,” Ryan said. “He did what he was supposed to do. He’s such a talented guy, you can put him anywhere.”
Carr said he wouldn’t mind seeing more time at safety, even though that would mean more work for him in practice.
“That’s fine. I like to work,” Carr said. “They pay me enough to work.” Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire