IRVING, Texas -- Merry Christmas to everybody. On this day filled with wonder, we bring you the final regular-season installment of Five Wonders.
On Rudolph …
** I wonder if anybody has set a record as quietly as Jason Witten set Sunday. With his final catch he set an NFL record for catches by a tight end in a season with 103. Tony Gonzalez had 102 for Kansas City in 2004. Because it came in overtime and given the magnitude of the game, there was a brief mention on the digital board and an announcement. Counter that with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson breaking Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season in which he was able to hand the ball to his dad and the crowd was able to make a big acknowledgment of the feat. Witten simply flipped the ball to the official and went back to business. The mark deserved more acclaim in the days that followed, not that Witten cared for any of the attention. It is, however, interesting to note. For all of the attention the Cowboys get nationally, somehow Witten seems to fall between the big headlines. Just an observation.
** If you’re wondering when Matt Johnson can play again, it won’t be this week. Johnson was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return Nov. 18 because of a hamstring injury. He can return to practice Friday but he would not be eligible to play in a game until the divisional round of the playoffs. Johnson’s rookie year has been a wash because of the hamstring injuries. The offseason should do him some good to get bigger and stronger, but the Cowboys won’t know what they have until next summer. Given Barry Church’s recovery from an Achilles’ tear and Johnson’s inexperience, the Cowboys face something of a dilemma at safety. They clearly believe Johnson has some real potential or they would not have kept him around all year the way they have, but they won’t know what he is. So go get a safety in free agency or draft one of the best safeties in the draft? Not really. To me, they can get by at safety especially with the resources they have at linebacker and cornerback.
** The Cowboys’ pro scouting department has done a nice job in finding players throughout the season that have come in and played a role on a team ravaged by injuries. I wonder if some of the guys they have added are keepers going forward. Start with Eric Frampton, who will be a free agent after the season. He was signed to be a special teams’ guy and has worked his way into a starting role in part because of injury. He would be a guy to bring back in 2013. I wonder if they take one-year looks at guys like Michael Coe, Charlie Peprah and Brian Schaefering too. Now, these guys aren’t top-end starters by any means, but good role players. You would like to be able to develop younger guys in these roles, but they could be doing enough to at least get a deal for 2013.
** I wonder how the Cowboys believe David Arkin will be a player one day. They have done everything possible to not play the 2011 fourth-round pick this season and yet he remains on the roster. Arkin has had chances in his first two training camps that a lot of players do not get afforded and he was unable to show he can play. Yet the Cowboys keep him. If they end up cutting him next August in camp, then they wasted time. Teams loathe to give up on offensive lineman and I’m sure everybody thought Doug Free was a bust after his first two seasons when he played only a couple of times. Like Free, Arkin is from a small school and those guys tend to take time to develop, but the Cowboys cannot afford to draft projects anymore. They need to get guys who are close to being ready to play.
** I wonder if enough people are noticing what Dan Bailey has done in his first two years. He is having the second-best two-year run by a Cowboys kicker in team history. His coach, Chris Boniol made 59 of 64 field goal tries in 1995-96, good for a 92.2% percentage. Bailey has made 60 of 67 kicks the last two seasons, including 28 of 30 this season, for a 90% make rate. (Yes, we rounded up from 89.5%). He has made a field goal in every game but one this season (at Seattle), and has delivered winning kicks against Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh this year. The guy is automatic and that means a lot with how many games in the NFL come down to big kicks.