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September 19, 2012

Cowboys need Jason Witten to play like Jason Witten

Tight end Jason Witten has not played like himself since returning from his lacerated spleen. He had more penalty yards and the same number of penalties as catches in the season opener against the Giants, though he provided inspiration for his teammates in playing 53 of 68 plays a day after being cleared by doctors. He promised to return to his old self after practicing all week last week.

But Witten struggled, like the offense, against the Seahawks. Witten, who played 51 of 58 plays, caught four passes for 58 yards but dropped three passes and had another he could have made a catch on.

Witten is tied with Raiders running back Darren McFadden for the league lead in dropped passes with four, according to STATS, Inc. (Cowboys fans won't be surprised to learn that ex-Cowboy Martellus Bennett has three drops, though he does have more catches, yards and touchdowns than Witten.) Witten averaged only three drops a season over the past four seasons.

For the season, Witten has been targeted 13 times. He has six catches for 68 yards and no touchdowns.

"You need everybody," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "I said this the other day, we’re not going to make any excuses for anybody’s performance, and Witt is certainly not going to make any excuse for his performance. He dropped some balls. It’s very uncharacteristic. He hasn’t dropped those balls in the past. He knows more than anybody else. When you’ve been a Pro Bowler as many times as he has, just move on to the next one as quickly as you can. Success and adversity just keep going. He’ll do that. He’s an outstanding football player, one of the leaders of our team."

Witten won't blame his slow start on his injury, though it had to have played a part. He missed a month in the preseason after lacerating his spleen in the preseason opener against the Raiders on Aug. 13. He was out of practice two weeks before returning on a limited basis.

"Health is good. I feel good. No setbacks. I feel fine," Witten said Monday. "I just didn’t play well. I had too many opportunities that I didn’t take advantage of in the passing game.”  

Witten has 702 career receptions, second in team history behind Michael Irvin's 750. Only two other tight ends in league history have more catches. Tony Gonzalez has 1,149 and Shannon Sharpe had 815 in his Hall of Fame career.

-- Charean Williams

Twitter: @NFLCharean

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