Reporting Mike Fisher
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IRVING (105.3 THE FAN) – When Jason Witten insists he’s “100 percent’’ despite starting the season with a league-leading six dropped passes, it suggests the future Hall Of Fame tight end is bravely shielding a hidden truth tied to the Dallas Cowboys tight end’s lacerated spleen injury.
In fact, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Sources tell Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan that the medical clearance Witten was given for the Week 1 victory against the Giants came from a New York spleen specialist but only after Cowboys doctors fell short of fully clearing him. Witten, in a sense, “went rogue,’’ enlisting the help of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in search of a doctor that would provide him clearance. After traveling to New York on Jones’ private jet and separate from his teammates, Witten found such an expert – “The finest spleen specialist in the country,’’ Jones said at the time.
So Witten had a “note from a doctor’’ to play. But other doctors seemingly deemed him less than 100-percent ready. That explains some of the cloak-and-dagger actions of the Cowboys on that Wednesday in New Jersey, when it was unknown until just before kickoff that Witten would give it an inspiring try. And it just might explain the ensuing struggles, too.
“Jason has played at the highest of levels and he’s still playing that way,” quarterback Tony Romo said after Sunday’s 16-10 win over Tampa Bay, a game in which Witten dropped three more passes (including a possible touchdown catch), committed two false starts and at least once was overmatched attempting to pass-block. “If this is tough on Jason right now, he’s been so good for so long that a play doesn’t define anything for him.”
That’s unquestionably true. Witten is just 30 and is destined to hold records making him the finest tight end in franchise history and maybe the finest pass-catcher, too. But six dropped passes in three games? That’s twice the sure-handed tight end’s usual total for a 16-game season. (“An anomaly,’’ tight ends coach John Garrett called it.) He is struggling, quite possibly as a result of having missed a month of practice after sustaining the spleen injury in preseason, quite possibly due to a slip in confidence as it appears he’s “fighting the ball’’ instead of catching it, and quite possibly because he is working to overcome lingering concerns about his spleen not truly allowing him to be “100 percent.’’
Insisted Witten last week: “Health is good. I feel good. No setbacks. I feel fine.”
Said Jones on Sunday: “I think he is (100 percent). So we in no way are going to do anything that doesn’t give Witten all the chances we can give him.”
Well, that might not work out, either. Dallas’ offensive line is struggling to the point that Witten — who has just eight catches for 76 yards and no TDs through three games — might be required to help more as a blocker.
“I think Witten has probably got the fewest drops of about anybody we’ve ever had around here, so I’m not (concerned),’’ Jones said.
But Witten is performing as if he is concerned, concerned about his lacerated spleen. His valiant effort undoubtedly merits praise. But his slow start merits an explanation … one quite possibly available behind that hidden truth.
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