Some Dallas Cowboys have shined in a gloomy season


Some Dallas Cowboys have shined in a gloomy season
By Clarence E. Hill Jr.

IRVING — At 5-9, the Dallas Cowboys are a bad team in the midst of a dreadful season.

But just as not everybody played well during the Cowboys’ 11-5 season of a year ago, it would be wrong to say everyone’s overall performance has been second-rate during this season.

There have been noteworthy performances in 2010, highlighted by tight end Jason Witten and linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who are again among the NFL’s best at their positions.

Count linebacker Bradie James and punter Mat McBriar in that group as well.

Performing at a high level despite a nightmarish season is the reason interim coach Jason Garrett uses them as examples of how to play, prepare and approach the game.

“It’s consistency, work ethic and overall approach,” Garrett said. “Sometimes people on the outside say ‘Well, that guy is just better than everybody else.’ Certainly DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten are talented players. But what separates them is how they go about their business every day and how they play on Sundays. They’re certainly a good example for the rest of our team.”

The Cowboys’ top performers this season:

Jason Witten, tight end

Memo to Terrell Owens: Witten doesn’t draw plays up in his hotel room just with Tony Romo. He must do it with Jon Kitna, too. Or maybe Witten is simply a reliable target for any smart quarterback. Witten not only hasn’t taken a step back with absence of best-friend Romo, he has had perhaps his best season, with 82 catches for 911 yards and a career-high tying seven touchdowns with two games to go. He appears headed for his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl. He needs eight catches to record his third 90-catch season. His 605 career receptions make him the fourth tight end in league history to reach 600 career receptions. He is second all-time in Cowboys receptions behind Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin (750).

Mat McBriar, punter

As are most punters, he is often overlooked by the fans and the media. But the most consistent Cowboys performer all season has been McBriar. Since 2004, he ranks third in the NFL among punters in gross average yards and fifth in net average. He has outdone himself in 2010, ranking second in the NFL gross average at 47.9 per punt and first in net at 41.9. His ability to flip the field position with his booming kicks is a valuable weapon for the Cowboys. Just as important is his ability to place the ball inside the 20-yard line and pin opponents deep. He has done that 19 times this season. The most recent, in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, keyed the game-winning drive.

DeMarcus Ware, linebacker

Ware will be the first to say this hasn’t been one of his better seasons. But the numbers show that is more a reflection of the defense’s poor play than Ware’s performance. He ranks fifth in the league with 11.5 sacks and could make a closing run at leading the league. He is one sack out of second place and 2.5 sacks behind league leader Cameron Wake of the Dolphins. It’s the fifth consecutive season Ware has notched double-digit sacks and his fifth straight season leading the team in sacks. His nine tackles for loss and 29 quarterback pressures are the second-most of his career. Ware has 76 career sacks since 2005, better than 20 more than anyone else during that time.

Bradie James, linebacker

The Cowboys’ defensive captain has never been a Pro Bowler. But James has been Mr. Consistency since being made a starter in 2005. He has a team-leading 146 tackles and will likely lead the team in tackles for a club-record sixth consecutive season. He is the only one to do it five times. With 939 career tackles, he will finish the season fifth in club history and could move into the top three next season. That he has played through a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which requires him to miss at least one day of practice each week, speaks to James’ dedication, leadership and reliability. “My job is to play and to be consistent,” James said. “It’s a big-time feat to lead the team in tackles for six years. What we really want to do is win. That’s what really matters.”

Clarence E. Hill Jr.

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