Which tandem?



Archer By Todd Archer

A few years ago Jason Witten was asked about the connection Troy Aikman and Jay Novacek had on the field for the Cowboys in the 1990s.

"Everybody knew on third-and-8 he was going to Novacek," Witten said, "and they'd make it every time."

At some point, another tight end will come along in Cowboys' history and say the same thing about Tony Romo-to-Witten, only Romo and Witten did it better than Aikman and Novacek with more specialized defenses.

Look, we're really splitting hairs here because both pairings were/are terrific and had the envy of other quarterbacks and tight ends across the league.

Aikman and Novacek had a six-year run. This will be the seventh year of Romo-to-Witten.

I'm sure Jean-Jacques Taylor will be mentioning the fact that Aikman and Novacek have three Super Bowl rings and Romo and Witten have one playoff victory.

But Romo and Witten don't have a Michael Irvin or Emmitt Smith to take pressure off their connection.

Sure, they had Terrell Owens, who had a great statistical three-year run with the Cowboys, but he was not as reliable on an every down basis as Irvin.

And they never had a back come even close to Smith to make the play-action such a weapon.

What makes Romo-to-Witten so good is how they see the game the same. It's like they condense a 100-yard football field down to a 94-foot basketball court.

When things break down, they know where to go. Romo knows how to buy time. Witten knows how to break free.

Remember that touchdown against Washington last year? Romo knew to look a linebacker off after moving to his left. Witten knew he could go a little more vertical to get the pass to create more room for the quarterback.

Witten likes to call it "just playing ball."

Aikman and Novacek did it wonderfully. Just not as good as Romo and Witten.


Taylor By Jean-Jacques Taylor

Ask Troy Aikman. Ask Michael Irvin. Ask Emmitt Smith.

Go ahead, ask any one of those Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor players.

Ask them who the most underappreciated member of their high-powered offense was.

Each one of them will tell you Jay Novacek, the wiry 6-foot-4, 233-pound tight end who was Aikman's security blanket for years.

That's why there's no doubt that Aikman-to-Novacek was the best quarterback-to-tight end passing combination in Dallas Cowboys history.

See, it's one thing for Jason Witten to be Tony Romo's most-trusted target.

After all, they were in the same rookie class and have been the best of friends almost from Day 1.

Novacek wasn't 6-5 and 265 pounds -- too big for safeties and too fast for linebackers -- like Witten.

The Cowboys acquired him because the Cardinals didn't think he was one of their best players and let him leave via Plan B free agency.

It didn't take Novacek long to make an impact.

His knack for running routes and wriggling free from defenders quickly earned him Aikman's trust. At times, Aikman simply threw the ball to a spot -- certain that Novacek would be where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there.

Aikman, Irvin and Smith garnered the majority of headlines, but it was Novacek's uncanny ability to deliver on third down that often kept the Cowboys' offense on the field long enough for The Triplets to do their thing.

Novacek, a five-time All-Pro player with Dallas, caught 339 passes for 3,586 yards and 22 touchdowns with the Cowboys before a creaky back ended his career.

No catch was bigger than his 23-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII, the win over Buffalo that started the dynasty of the '90s.

He scored the Cowboys' first touchdown with 1:36 left in the first quarter on a pass down the middle that Aikman launched without a clear view of his tight end.

No worries.

He knew Novacek would arrive in time. The TD tied the score at 7-7 and settled down the Cowboys.

If Witten and Romo ever connect for a TD in a Super Bowl, we might have to debate which was the better passing combination.

Right now, we don't.


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