IRVING (AP) – Jason Witten wishes he could blame the dropped passes on his spleen injury, the time he missed because of it, or feeling badly in some way.
The Dallas Cowboys’ seven-time Pro Bowl tight end instead said he just isn’t making the plays.
The usually reliable receiver, and one of quarterback Tony Romo’s favorite targets, has had several bobbles in the past two games. That includes a likely touchdown while running alone down the field in a close victory on Sunday against Tampa Bay, a ball off his fingertips that he juggled and dropped.
“Not all of them are perfect opportunities where it’s just between the 8 and the 2 (on the jersey), and you catch it and you go on, but plays I expect to make,” Witten said Monday. “I take full responsibility for it, and rest assured that I’m going to get it fixed.”
Witten had as many drops (six) as catches in the past two games.
After he lacerated his spleen in the preseason opener on Aug. 13, he had to be immobile as much as possible for a week. Witten managed to get back in time to play the Sept. 5 regular-season opener — being cleared by doctors in New York only a day before the game against the Super Bowl-champion Giants. Witten was an inspirational part of that victory even with only two catches for 10 yards.
But Witten hasn’t seemed like himself the last two games, with several balls he expects to catch, and usually has in the past, like the missed scoring chance Sunday in a 16-10 win over Tampa Bay.
“I wish there was a way I could say I wasn’t feeling good, or I’m pressing or anything like that. It’s not that,” Witten said. “That would be the easy way to really get out of it, but bottom line is, you’ve got to get it fixed. It’s unacceptable.”
The Cowboys (2-1) will host Chicago next Monday night.
Now in his 10th NFL season, Witten’s 704 career catches are second only to Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin for the Cowboys, and third among NFL tight ends.
But that wasn’t the topic of conversation Monday when he was among only a few players who appeared in the locker room. Witten answered questions for more than 12 minutes, and said it hurts to not make the plays.
“I think every player, regardless of the sport, they go through adversity at some point. Obviously, this is it for me. It’s a point in your career, everything’s going to be asked: ‘Is he slowing down? Is he not being able to handle it?’ All that stuff,” he said. “In my mind, it’s ridiculous. … You’ve just got to make those plays. It has nothing to do with anything other than balls being thrown to you.
“You’ve got a chance to make some big plays.”
There were also two false start penalties against Witten on Sunday, meaning he had more penalty yards (10) than receiving yards (eight).
Witten has never had a stretch like this, which is why the Cowboys remain confident in him. Coach Jason Garrett on Monday called Witten one of the best football players he has ever been around.
“The level of confidence I have in him, the quarterback has in him, the team has in him, has not wavered,” Garrett said. “We believe a lot in the body of work. You can say that game or the last couple of games, ‘Boy is he a different player?’ I’d like to believe he is the guy who has been playing on this team the last 10 years.”
Romo, in his seventh season as the Cowboys starter, has never played a game without Witten as his tight end. The only game Witten has missed was as a rookie in 2003 because of a broken jaw.
After Sunday’s game, Romo said there is no concern about Witten and that, “everybody is shocked if he doesn’t play perfect” because of the standard of excellence the tight end has set.
Witten said he feels good and is healthy, and that there is nobody more critical of his play than him.
“None of this has anything to do with that. The spleen feels fine. Even the practice, that has nothing to do with it,” Witten said. “If you look at the days I missed, it wasn’t anything from that standpoint. I’m in a position now, you know that offense inside-out, and you had plenty of practice before you got in that situation.
“Just didn’t make the plays, bottom line, no other way to say it.”
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