Tight end Jason Witten said he has nothing to blame for his poor play lately except himself.
And that he will get it turned around.
And that he knows that if he doesn’t, he’s not guaranteed a place in the offense.
“You don’t just get built in to get those throws next week and next time because of what that number is on the back of the jersey,” he said Monday in a long talk with reporters at Valley Ranch. “It’s a show-me game. I’ve got to show it and prove it just like every other player. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Witten, who didn’t do media interviews after Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay – in which he dropped two passes, committed two false-start penalties and was beaten in pass protection for a sack of Tony Romo – talked to reporters at his locker for more than 12 minutes, about twice as long as on a typical day after a game.
But this was not a typical game for Witten, or a typical time for him.
“I think every player, regardless of the sport, they go through adversity at some point. Obviously this is it for me,” Witten said. “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. In my mind, it’s ridiculous.”
Witten said the spleen injury that kept him out of preseason is healed. He said he is not hurt. He said he is not hearing footsteps. He said he is getting and has gotten plenty of practice.
He says he’s just not making the play.
“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,” he said. “That would be the easy way to really get out of it, but bottom line is, you’ve got to get it fixed. Unacceptable.”
Witten has dropped six passes in the last two games. He dropped a tipped pass after sliding down for it, and he couldn’t hold on to a long pass down the middle of the field with no one around him.
Last week in Seattle, he dropped the same kind of seam pass.
“Plays you make your whole career. ... Crushes me that I didn’t,” he said. "You’ve got a chance to make some big plays, two that are probably 40-plus catches. A lot of tight ends go their whole career without getting 40-plus catches, you’ve got two back-to-back weeks. Trust me, it hurts when you don’t make those plays."
Witten went into Sunday's game promising to make up for the previous game. Instead, he created more questions about what’s wrong with one of the franchise’s most dependable players ever.
“I thought I handled that last week and fixed it and addressed it. Obviously, I didn’t do a good enough job,” he said. “You’ve got to go in there on Sunday knowing that the work’s been put in. You can’t second guess yourself. You can’t press. And that’s what I’ll do and do it tirelessly until it gets fixed.”
Coach Jason Garrett acknowledged Witten’s problems, but he said he still has confidence in his seven-time Pro Bowl tight end.
“He has dropped the football the last couple of weeks in a way we have never seen him do that,” he 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.”
Witten said his teammates have been supportive, but he understands if they – and particularly quarterback Tony Romo – wonder if he’s ok.
“I’m sure he’s wondering what’s wrong,” Witten said. “At the end of the day, those are big plays for him, big plays for our offense, especially when you’re struggling. Nah, they’ve all been positive, good teammates. Obviously, I’m sure they’re concerned, and rightfully so. But ultimately you’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
Witten said the big hit he took on a catch in Seattle, and the potential for other big hits, is not on his mind.
“Hey, look, every catch you make at tight end, you’re expecting to get hit,” he said. “Trust me, I’ve never heard footsteps, never worried about that. To be honest with you, there’s not even a guy in my vision on either of those throws the last two weeks. Look, I’ve analyzed it and overanalyzed it, just like you guys are trying to. It’s nothing more than just, I didn’t make the catch when I had the opportunity to.”
Witten said he thinks the first drop Sunday was tipped, but he said the long seam throw was perfect.
“Tony did a great job putting it right in front of me,” he said. “Just got to come down with it. It’s plays you make your whole career. Happen every week in this league. Got to find a way to get it done. Crushes me that I didn’t.”
He added, “Not all of them are perfect opportunities where it’s just between the 8 and the 2, and you catch it and you go on. But plays I expect to make, plays that you see week in and week out in the NFL, and I haven’t made them over the last two weeks. I take full responsibility for it, and rest assured that I’m going to get it fixed.”
Criticism is rare for Witten, and although he said he deserves it, he is determined to block it out as he tries to get himself right.
“I understand that I don’t play to get respect from you guys or play to get criticized,” he said. “I know that that’s going to come. You’ve got a job to do just like everybody else. ... To be honest with you, you’ve got to eliminate that noise. You can’t worry about that. It should come. It should come. My play has not been good enough. I’ll take it head on.”
-- Carlos Mendez