This is exactly why we worried.
Entering Monday night’s pre-season opener in Oakland we were concerned about the Cowboys’ patchwork offensive line. In light of all the injuries and inexperience and incompetence we witnessed at training camp in Oxnard, we feared for quarterback Tony Romo’s safety.
And, indirectly, our nightmares today became reality.
What started with a blown block by Doug Free resulted in Romo ad-libbing a pass to tight end Jason Witten, who we now know suffered a spleen injury that could keep him out for the regular-season opener and beyond. Witten is being evaluated today by the Cowboys’ medical staff in California. If the spleen is ruptured, he’ll face surgery and be out indefinitely. If not, he’ll merely miss the rest of preseason and be back for Dallas’ season-opener Wed. Sept. 5 against the New York Giants.
It happened on the Cowboys’ second possession against the Raiders. On 1st and 10 from their own 20 late in the 1st quarter the Cowboys ran a play-action pass designed for Dez Bryant. Romo faked a hand-off to DeMarco Murray, with the flow of the play moving left. Romo then peeled back right and looked for Bryant, who was crossing the field from left to right. The misdirection worked and Dez was indeed open, but Romo had no time to deliver him the ball.
Why? Because right tackle Free – Dallas’ most experienced and most expensive offensive lineman – totally whiffed on his block attempt. Raiders’ defensive end Lamar Houston (from the University of Texas) easily got inside Free and almost immediately pressured Romo. The quarterback amazingly spun away from a sack, but the original play was disrupted, if not broken. Ad-libbing, Romo threw a pass from his 5 up around the 19 to Witten, who caught the ball but was blasted by linebacker Renaldo McClain.
McClain – in a legal hit – got his helmet in front of the tight end and leveled him with a right shoulder to Witten’s left side, sending him flying back to the 15.
Witten immediately went to the sideline, but returned later to catch another pass and after the game say he was okay. But apparently yesterday and today Witten wasn’t okay. He suffered a spleen injury and internal bleeding. Yikes.
Witten is a tough guy who has missed only 1 game (with a fractured jaw) in his 10-year career and who once famously ran after a catch without his helmet against the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s a team captain. He’s only 55 catches away from breaking Michael Irvin’s all-time franchise record.
In other words, his long-term absence would be a colossal blow to the Cowboys’ season.
John Phillips is capable and draft pick James Hannah has shown flashes and linebacker Alex Albright didn’t look horrible briefly switching positions last week. But the Cowboys need Witten. At tight end. On the field. In the locker room. Everywhere.
More than ever, we’re worried.
And, somewhere in New York, you get the feeling that Martellus Bennett is smirking.
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