OXNARD, Calif. -- This season can’t be the same ol’ story.
That’s what perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, who has all of one playoff win to show for his outstanding 11-year career, said when the Dallas Cowboys arrived for training camp a couple of years ago. Or was it last year?
Unfortunately for Witten, the past few years really run together. Those seasons played out exactly the same – an 8-8 finish with the Cowboys falling short with the NFC East title and a playoff berth at stake in Week 17.
“We’ve just got to go show it,” Witten said. “We know what it takes. We’ve just got to have that breakthrough. The only way to do that is to work hard every day.”
What more can Witten say as the frustration mounts?
As always, Witten arrived at camp with a sense of optimism and a stronger sense of urgency. He’s confident that the Cowboys can play well enough to put themselves in position again to extend their season. He’s determined to find a way to perform better in those kinds of situations, well aware that he might not have that many opportunities left in his potential Hall of Fame career.
And there’s still that sickening feeling in his stomach, hunger pangs from a lack of playoff success.
“There’s no question there’s a lot of sleepless nights there, but really, nobody cares,” Witten said, referring to a lack of sympathy for the Cowboys. “Ultimately, you find ways to get to those games, you’ve got to find ways to play better. We got outplayed. Nobody is going to give you anything. You’ve got to earn it. This is a tough league. Nobody cares about last year. You move on, so we’ve got to be better.
“I think each of us has to look ourselves in the mirror. If you want to have that breakthrough, I think it takes a commitment. Hopefully those experiences, we’ll learn from it and be better because of it. I think we’ve got the right guys who will go do it, but it’s a long ways away. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
This isn’t a matter of want. Not for Witten, and not for any of his teammates, as he sees it.
The Cowboys wanted a winning season each of the past four years, but they got the longest playoff drought of Jerry Jones’ ownership tenure. The Cowboys worked hard, but that hasn’t been enough to punch their playoff tickets.
It’s about working their way into playing big games again and then finding a way to win the games that matter most.
“Never been a question of fight,” Witten said. “I think the mindset is just that those experiences, you understand that you have to play better. And that’s us as players. We’ve got to do that collectively. I have to do it and 52 other guys have to do the same thing.
“I don’t think the mindset’s any different from the approach [of recent years]. We’ve always done that. We’re a smart team. We’re tough. We fight. That’s the league we live in. It comes down to one, two possessions every game. We’ve got to work to find ways to win those games.”