One year to the day after Tony Romo called his first Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium as CBS’s lead analyst, Jason Witten did likewise for ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
And what a coincidence! Another ex-Cowboy, Dez Bryant, made news just prior to Monday night’s Dallas-Tennessee game when the NFL Network reported that Bryant will work out for the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday.
The Bryant news broke at roughly the time Witten, wearing what many would describe as a Cowboys-blue suit, was feted with a pregame montage on AT&T Stadium’s giant video board, just like Romo was last November.
Recall that when the Cowboys waived Bryant last April, he gave an emotional interview to the NFL Network during which he cryptically blamed “Garrett guys” and players who “wear that ‘C'” for having a part in his ouster.
Well, Witten was one of six Cowboys captains last season, but after Bryant was waived and made those comments, Witten made it clear that he had nothing to do with the parting and praised Bryant as a great teammate.
And when Witten retired three weeks later, Bryant tweeted: “Goat is his name. He had to call me to believe it. First ballet no question. What an amazing career. Oh yea I dropped a dime to ya for 6.”
Not surprisingly, with Amari Cooper making his Cowboys debut on Monday, Witten’s MNF co-analyst, Booger McFarland, began an early second-quarter discussion, comparing Cooper and Bryant.
“Everyone wondered: What did they lose when they lost Dez Bryant?” McFarland said. “They lost a guy that was a big, physical wide receiver. He couldn’t make the quick cuts like Amari Cooper. He couldn’t get in and out of his breaks. That’s the one thing that Cooper can do. He’s a fast guy. He brings speed to the Cowboy offense, and the last two years they didn’t have that. They were a slow offense, and now they’re not.”
Here’s where Witten stepped in. During their first half-season of MNF, and again during Cowboys-Titans, Witten usually got the first say, McFarland the second, but this time it was Witten’s turn to have last say.
After all, who is more qualified to compare the pre-Dez Cowboys to the current group? Witten went one step further, comparing the Romo/Dez Cowboys, the Dak/Dez Cowboys and the Dak/Dez-less Cowboys.
WITTEN: “The one thing I would say to that is last year’s offense was different than when Dez Bryant shined and led the league in touchdowns. Because what Dez did so well, probably better than anybody in the league, was going up and getting the tough catches.”
WITTEN: “He used his body. He understood how to high-point the football. And that was an offense that Tony lived in. He liked to take chances, extend plays down the field, aggressive. So now with Dak Prescott it’s a more controlled offense. Not as many turnovers, certainly, but it’s the running game. It’s play-action, getting outside the pocket. And a little bit more timing, which was different than in ’14 with Dez Bryant.”
Throughout the game, Witten said little that could be construed as criticism of the Cowboys. Even when Prescott, with the Cowboys leading 7-0, threw to a double-covered Cooper in the end zone and suffered an interception, Witten said: “In that situation, Dak Prescott was leaning on him a little too much, thinking his guy could win.”
Meanwhile, what most Cowboys fans were thinking: “What a dumb pass.”
Early in the third quarter, while first half highlights were being shown, including the interception, Witten did say: “He’s double-covered in that situation. You cannot do that.”
It was left to McFarland to deliver most of the Cowboys criticism, especially when Dallas behind, 21-14, and continued to exasperate McFarland by running on first down.
When Prescott suffered his second interception, play-by-play voice Joe Tessitore pointed out that Monday’s game marked Prescott’s 10th two-turnover performance in the last two seasons, tied for the NFL lead.
TESSITORE: “They have to value the football.”
McFARLAND: “Well, they have to value the football, but, once again, a run on first down. They came into the game with the seventh-fewest passes in the National Football League on first down. You think the Tennessee Titans don’t know that? Open your offense up, Scott Linehan. Allow Dak Prescott to mature and grow in the pocket. If not now, when?”
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