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FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' Week 18 victory, a 38-10 party to the NFC East division title and the conference's No. 2 seed, was interrupted at the 2-minute warning at the end of the first half by cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the ground, clutching his shoulder. 

The 33-year-old, 12-year NFL veteran was diagnosed with separated shoulder, and the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year did not return to the game. 

"It just popped out of place, and they popped it back," Gilmore said postgame on Sunday. "I feel way better now. Happy it wasn't anything too crazy."  

After a few days of rest, Gilmore is "confident" about his ability to play and start Sunday against the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers in the opening round of the postseason. 

"I'm feeling good," Gilmore said Wednesday. "Taking it day by day. Just trying to prepare for the Packers. Just looking forward to it." Doing a lot of treatment, getting it strong. Looking forward to it. Confident."  

How important is Gilmore? Just simply having him, whose 60.3 passer rating against as the primary defender in coverage is the ninth-best in the NFL among 39 players with at least 80 passes thrown their way, on the field lifts the morale of the Cowboys' entire unit. His presence also helps make up for losing Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs, who tore his ACL in practice prior to Dallas' Week 3 contest against the Arizona Cardinals

"He's been huge for us especially with the lost of Tre[von Diggs] early in the year," Dallas Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said on a conference call on Monday. "Just having a guy like that, the level that he's reached in his career and still going strong. It's tremendous for everyone in the building, and it's not even just on the defensive side of the ball or the cornerbacks. Everyone in the building see and understands the type of player that he's been in his entire career and the things he's reached, the levels that he's reached. Everyone feeds off it. He's an OG to everyone in this building, and we look at him as such. He just continues to go hard for us and hard for himself. He's one of those guys that when things get rough, you want to look at him and see how he's responding because he's a guy that you can always count on. He's always going to tell you the right things at that moment. He doesn't really say much but when he does say things, it's impactful and it's heavy."   

What's heavily weighing on defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's heart when it comes to Gilmore is what ability he will have to tackle some of the Packers' youth. Green Bay enters the postseason as the youngest playoff team since the 1974 Buffalo Bills with an average age of 25 years, 214 days old. Not so coincidentally, the Packers 302 catches, 3,642 receiving yards and 31 receiving touchdowns all rank as the most for a team's first and second-year players in a single season since at least the 1970 NFL/AFL merger. 

"He's really important," Quinn said Monday when asked about Gilmore's health. "As you're going through the week, you want to make sure. This isn't like your finger got dislocated. He has to get the strength and the functionality to move and do all that. So, we'll take it all the way through the week. I would say this about him. If there is a way, if there is a chance, he will find it. He's been that type of competitor his whole life. There's no difference in that now. Just have to see the strength of it to tackle and do all the things you do. We're encouraged by the first step, so now it's just stacking it along the way. It was good to get some good news this morning."

Quinn did say he wasn't breathing into a paper bag when he went down.

"You do have to plan for these contingencies, and it sucks when a guy goes down," he said. "We also know that is a part of doing business. We acknowledge the injury for him. … We do have to prepare for those moments to come at any position."

Gilmore himself is preparing to play with a shoulder harness, something he was played the bulk of the 2015 season with after injuring his right shoulder in the preseason. 

"A lot of guys go through a lot of things throughout the season," Gilmore said. "They've got to play through, so it's just another thing. I've played through a lot this year. It comes with the territory. Just got to make it work."  

In the eyes of his head coach, it appears like he is going to make playing against the Packers work this weekend. 

"All of those things," McCarthy said Wednesday when asked about strength or range of motion. "He's making really good progress. The goal is to give Gilly what he needs here Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then line him up Saturday and cut him loose, but we need to see how the week goes."

"You see Gilly, at halftime, you don't even see Gilly because he's doing body work," Dallas Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland said Wednesday. "That right there just shows how much you need to do to be a pro."

Gilmore has made the Cowboys' secondary work without Diggs this season, aiding second-year corner DaRon Bland make the transition from playing nickelback, an inside corner position, to outside corner. Bland has absorbed the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year's teachings to put together an NFL Defensive Player of the Year-caliber campaign himself. He led the league with nine interceptions, five being pick-sixes -- breaking the NFL's all-time single-season record and Cowboys' career mark. Bland's 27.6 passer rating as the primary defender in coverage also paced the league among 147 players with at least 50 passes thrown their way.

"Coming in, we had all three of us [Bland, Gilmore and Diggs]," Bland said Wednesday. "Then once Tre went down, he's [Gilmore] a guy that's been in the league and seen everything. In this league, injuries are going to happen. He always kept us in the right spot…. Just making it easier to see reads and see route combinations."

One of the rare times Bland got torched this season came back in Week 13. Pro Bowl wide receiver DK Metcalf racked up 108 yards and two touchdowns on three catches in the first half of a 41-35 Cowboys win with Bland as his primary defender. The 24-year-old allowed more touchdowns that Thursday night (two) than he did the rest of the 2023 season (one). Bland bounced back in the second half with an interception. Quinn rotated Gilmore onto Metcalf in the second half, and Metcalf totaled just 16 yards and a touchdown on two catches.

"I'm just going to start off in the [defensive backs room]," Bland said when describing Gilmore's impact. "Everybody loves him in the room and gravitates toward him. We are always asking him questions. What did you see on this? So, it's always great to have him in the room. As far as the defense, he keeps us level-headed just having those talks because he's been there."

Against a Packers team that utilizes motion at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL (59.9%) with the league's youngest group of pass-catchers flying around on the field, remaining calm and communicative is exactly what the Cowboys need from Gilmore, Bland and the rest of their defense on Sunday.