- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Witten, a seven-time Pro Bowler who leads the leagues in drops, simply vows to return to form.
Witten insists that his health isn't a factor despite missing four weeks of practice after suffering a lacerated spleen in the Aug. 13 preseason opener. He wasn't cleared to play until visiting a New York medical specialist just before the Cowboys' season-opening win over the New York Giants.
"I wish there was a way I could say I wasn't feeling good or I'm pressing or anything like that," Witten said Monday, when he answered questions for 13 minutes a day after uncharacteristically avoiding the media following a poor performance. "It's not that. 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 moved past Ozzie Newsome for third place among tight ends on the NFL's all-time receiving yardage list during Sunday's 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but his struggles were a major storyline for the second consecutive week.
After dropping three passes in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Witten failed to come down with three more passes that he got his hands on against the Bucs. He also committed two false starts and allowed a sack by Tampa Bay defensive end Michael Bennett, a play on which left tackle Doug Free should have helped Witten.
The two-catch, eight-yard outing marked the second game this season in which Witten had more penalty yards than receiving yards. That was also the case in the season opener, although the headlines focused on the inspirational lift Witten provided his teammates by playing that night despite being listed as doubtful.
Witten is especially frustrated that he has allowed two big plays to slip through his hands. He dropped potential touchdown passes on deep seam routes against the Seahawks and Bucs when he was wide open.
"It's tough," Witten said. "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. In my mind, it's ridiculous. Just watch the tape.
"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, 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."
Quarterback Tony Romo and the rest of the Cowboys have publicly expressed confidence in the 10-year veteran tight end, but Witten said he's sure they're wondering what's wrong with him.
Head coach Jason Garrett and owner/general manager Jerry Jones said Sunday afternoon that Witten would continue to get a lot of opportunities in the Cowboys' passing game.
"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 ten years."
However, Witten said he has to prove he's worthy of those opportunities despite ranking second in team history with 704 receptions.
"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," Witten said. "It's a show-me game. I've got to go show it and prove it just like every other player. That's what I'm going to do."
5hEric D. Williams
1dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo