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Jason Witten: ‘Foolish to get sensitive’ if Cowboys draft TE early – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — As Jason Witten gets ready for what will be a franchise-record 16th season with the Dallas Cowboys, he knows this might be the year the team drafts his successor with an early-round pick.

“They’ve got to find the best roster that they can do,” Witten said last week at the inaugural Jason Witten College Man of the Year Award dinner. “It would be foolish to get sensitive and worry about that. You’ve got to be able to compete and play at a high level. I welcome that and certainly I would help that guy in any way and I think the most important thing is let’s make our football team better. I know Stephen and Jerry [Jones] and Will [McClay] and coach [Jason] Garrett, they’re doing everything they can to put us in position in free agency and the draft to do that. Tight end position may be one of those spots.”

The Cowboys have drafted three tight ends in the second round over the past 12 years: Anthony Fasano (2006), Martellus Bennett (2008) and Gavin Escobar (2012).

Their plan with those selections was to pair the pick with Witten as part of a strong two-tight-end set that could be dominant with the run, especially with Bennett, and versatile with the pass, especially with Escobar. The latter was selected in part because the Cowboys were going to emulate what the New England Patriots did with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

It never worked out. Fasano was traded after the 2007 season. Bennett caught four touchdown passes, all as a rookie, and left in free agency. Escobar, who also left as a free agent, never had more than nine catches in a season.

Witten has finished first or second on the team in receptions the past 11 seasons, including 2017 when he caught 63 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns. In the past five seasons, he has not played fewer than 96 percent of the snaps, including 98 percent in 2017.

After managing his practice work the past few seasons, there have been whispers this offseason of cutting back on Witten’s snaps in order to theoretically make him better late in games or late in the season.

To do so, the Cowboys need to have a tight end to do what Witten does in the running and passing games. James Hanna and Geoff Swaim have worked into smaller roles in the offense. The Cowboys like the potential of Blake Jarwin. Rico Gathers is a fan favorite based on two preseasons.

Can any of them handle a bigger role? Would a potential early draft pick?

Last season, Garrett, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterback Dak Prescott said Witten, who turns 36 in May, showed no signs of slowing down. Witten would not be coming back for another season if he did not think he could play at a high level and already has begun the process of getting ready for 2018.

“There’s no other way. I’ve got to improve,” Witten said. “Another year older, you know, that’s another 1,000 snaps underneath that I have behind me. So I’ll do it again and I think it’ll be important for me to perform at a high level. It’s a bottom line, right? Does the pitch count kick in? My job is to be able to perform for three hours or three and a half hours every Sunday and I’ve got to work my tail off to get to the point where I can do it, and that’s what motivates me.”

The ultimate motivation is a Super Bowl. Already the franchise leader in receptions and receiving yards and second to Tony Gonzalez among tight ends in NFL history, Witten does not need more catches or yards to build a Hall of Fame resume.

He is playing because he believes he can play a major role in winning a championship.

He said if the Cowboys draft another tight end it would not serve as “fuel,” to dispel the notion he can no longer do it. He is at a different place in his career than when the Cowboys selected Fasano, Bennett and Escobar.

“I feel like if you don’t have [the desire to win a title] you don’t need to be playing,” Witten said. “If you’ve got to convince yourself of that or, ‘Hey, can I amp up for one more?’ That’s already a sign [to call it quits]. And that’s never been the case with me to this point. I’ve never had that feeling. I’m sure I will at some point because it is demanding. It’s taxing.

“But it goes hand in hand. It’s both mental and physical. Maybe what you lose physically you gain mentally in your education, knowledge, how you study and see it and how quickly you see it and break it down. That’s an advantage for sure being able to be smart and make quick decisions. But you are, you’re fighting off Father Time and you’ve got to work your ass off to do it. Certainly I’ve tried to do that over the course of the last few years.”

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Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan says win over Carolina Panthers may be ‘confidence builder’

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It has been a disappointing and, at times, embarrassing season so far for the Atlanta Falcons, but quarterback Matt Ryan wants to think that Thursday’s victory in Carolina could be the spark for yet another second-half surge.

The Falcons held on to a fourth-quarter lead for just the second time in five games in 2020 thanks to a Todd Gurley touchdown run and an interception by Blidi Wreh-Wilson and beat the Panthers 25-17 at Bank of America Stadium.

“I hope it’s the start of something,” Ryan said. “I really feel like, although we’re 2-6, I feel like we’ve been in some tight ones. We’ve played some good football. I think we can play some really tough football here in the second half of the season.”

The Falcons did that in 2019, following a 1-7 start with a 6-1 finish that included victories in the final four games. Can they repeat that over the next two months?

It won’t be easy. They have a winnable game against Denver next week, but after their bye they play New Orleans twice in a three-week span. Then there’s two games against Tampa Bay and one against Kansas City, as well, in addition to games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers. The Broncos and Chargers are the only opponents remaining with losing records.

“We’ve been in every game we’ve played this year,” Ryan said. “We’ve had some crazy losses, just to be frank, and I really believe that we’ve got the caliber of team to go be in the games we’re going to play the rest of the season.

“Why can’t we win them all? That’s the mindset that I have.”

The way the Falcons beat the Panthers gives Ryan hope. They overcame a 2-for-6 performance in the red zone and the loss of leading receiver Calvin Ridley to an ankle injury. The Falcons held a 13-minute advantage in time of possession, totaled 401 yards, held the Panthers to 2-of-10 on third down and sacked quarterback Teddy Bridgewater three times.

Ryan also pitched in with a 13-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career, to become just the third quarterback in franchise history to have double-digit rushing touchdowns. He trails only Michael Vick (21) and Steve Bartkowski (11).

Thursday was just the second time this season that the Falcons won a game in which they entered the fourth quarter with a lead. They had been 1-3 in that situation, including last week’s loss to Detroit on the game’s final play. The Falcons led the Lions 14-13 in the fourth quarter but Todd Gurley’s touchdown run left the Lions with too much time and Matthew Stafford’s TD pass to T.J. Hockenson gave the Lions a 23-22 victory.

That was just the latest — and most painful — fourth-quarter flop. The Falcons blew a five-point lead in Week 2 in a 40-39 loss to Dallas and a 16-point lead in Week 3 to Chicago.

Until the victory over the Panthers, the Falcons’ only hold on a fourth-quarter lead was two weeks ago against Minnesota.

“It just felt like it was going to be a different night,” Ryan said. “Our defense stepped up and did a great job making plays. I’m happy for them. To come through in that type of situation, that’s a confidence builder for us moving forward.”

And, Ryan hopes, the start of another second-half rally.

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Hit on Carolina Panthers’ Teddy Bridgewater draws ejection for Atlanta Falcons’ Charles Harris

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Atlanta Falcons defensive end Charles Harris was ejected in the third quarter of Thursday night’s 25-17 win over the Carolina Panthers after a vicious hit that briefly sidelined quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Bridgewater was scrambling on the third-and-7 play when he was tripped and went down for a 2-yard loss. Harris came in after Bridgewater was down and delivered a blow to the helmet.

Bridgewater went to the sideline tent to be checked for a possible concussion. He came out a few minutes later and began throwing on the sideline.

Bridgewater returned in the fourth quarter after clearing concussion protocol.

Former XFL star P.J. Walker took over at quarterback for three plays and the Panthers settled for a 39-yard field goal to pull within 19-17.

Bridgewater was 10-for-15 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown before the play.

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Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley ruled out vs. Carolina Panthers with ankle injury

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Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley suffered a left ankle injury during the first half of Thursday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

Ridley was hurt when he was tackled by safety Jeremy Chinn at the end of a 19-yard catch-and-run late in the first half. He limped off the field and went to the locker room. He was originally listed as questionable to return but was ruled out early in the second half.

Ridley, who had three catches for 42 yards at the time of his injury, entered the game as the Falcons’ leader in receptions (40), receiving yards (615) and receiving touchdowns (six). The Falcons have relied on him heavily because Julio Jones had missed two games with a hip injury.

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