Cowboys Romo + Witten: 'Pay Price' Not Enough

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Jerry Jones says his men shouldn't be embarrassed by what happened on Sunday because they have 'paid the price' in camp. If you come with me into the Cowboys locker room you will learn that Witten's rolling eyes and Romo's pointed tongue tell a different story.

Jerry Jones dismounted his shotgun ride in a golf cart in the bowels of the 49ers brand-new $1-billion Erector Set to announce to a collection of media members that there is nothing to be "embarrassed'' about following the Dallas Cowboys' "meaningless'' 23-6 preseason loss here.

"Let's be hard on ourselves ... It was not fun,'' Jones said "(But) I can't say, because I've seen these players work hard ... I can't say 'embarrassing' because I haven't paid the price that these guys have in training camp.''

In his typical "Jerry Poppins'' way, the owner has a point. Training camp has been a productive grind. This game was simply one page in the book of the summer. The Morning News headline "Cowboys not even remotely ready for regular-season opener'' seems a reach and is probably a rehash of a headline from exactly this time a year ago, when Dallas was on the way to an 0-4 preseason.

There is no need for overreaction.

But that doesn't justify inaction.

Which is why, as Jerry's comments serve as the meat to the "embarrassed-or-not?' sandwich, the before-and-after embarrassment bread was carved by Jason Witten and Tony Romo.

You see, before Jerry's cart trudged up the tunnel, Witten did the same. He was the first Cowboy off the field and into the locker room. Meanwhile, I was the first mediot to arrive outside the locker-room door. My eyes met his and before I looked away, not wishing to seem too much the voyeur, I caught a glimpse.

Witten was rolling his eyes disgustedly.

And then I entered the locker room, where Witten's rolling eyes were joined by Romo's pointed tongue.

“We’ve got to make sure,'' Romo said in one of a series of short, snappy remarks, "we’re more mentally tough than what we are right now during the preseason.’’

Twenty years ago, after Dallas has won its first Super Bowl, one of Romo's predecessors, Troy Aikman, was angered by some seemingly innocuous botch during a training-camp drill. I asked him for specifics. After all, the mistake was made by a rookie who was unlikely to make the team.

"No matter who screws up, it costs the team time,'' Aikman told me. "We've got some guys out here who have been with the Cowboys for a month who think they won a Super Bowl, who think they've been part of whatever success we've had. Who think they deserve the star on the side of their helmet. They haven't earned anything.''

To this day, as I'm sure you've noticed, rookies in training camp have a slightly different uniforms than the vets. Aikman's comments way back when help explain why that is.

There is a report that Corey White wanted to leave a $100 bill at Levi’s Stadium so he could retrieve it when his Cowboys were back to play in this building in Super Bowl 50.

Corey Who?

There will be an intensity crank-up in these final three days of practice in Oxnard before the team breaks camp and returns home to DFW for Saturday’s game against Minnesota. Oh, there will still be that Jason Garrett stable of a made field goal that rewards the guys with an afternoon at the beach. (Oops. Check that; Garrett's Tuesday presser in Oxnard was terse. The fellas are in pads on Tuesday afternoon. And Beach Day is apparently off.) And there will still be the fun and the entertainment and the bonding and the silliness; this is training camp, not prison camp, and you go stir-crazy without some of that.

But you watch: Dez Bryant (hamstring) tells me he wants to return to practice, like, now. His intensity will raise the offensive bar. Sean Lee ("tempo-ing up'') and Brandon Carr (broken bone in his hand) want to do the same for the defense. Garrett knows that the clock is ticking down toward the regular season; emotion will bubble under the crust of stability. And most of all, I bet, Romo and Witten will make it clear that missed assignments, dropped passes and 10 men lining up on field-goal block has better not happen because somebody thinks they've already "paid the price'' -- in the form of a $100 bill or otherwise.

“If this team is going to improve, it needs to understand this next week is very important,’’ Romo said.

"Important'' because Saturday night's home preseason game against Minnesota is the dress-rehearsal tune-up for a regular season that Romo and Witten and everyone else around here believe can be a championship-contending one. "Important'' because Dez and Lee and others need some level of on-field readiness. Important because while maybe as many as 47 of the final 53 jobs are pretty much determined, that 47th guy and that 53rd guy are going to be needed to prepare to meet and beat the Giants on Sept. 13.

So let the owner find the positives and soft-sell the "embarrassing'' aspects of this trip. That's part of his job.

And let the coach oversee a walkthrough at Levi's Stadium on Saturday during which he mentioned that Super Bowl 50 will be staged here ... and that, without him having to mention it outright ... that he views this club as capable of a berth. That's part of his job.

Romo feels like execution is needed at every level, on every play, in camp and beyond, for Dallas to be at its best. Anything less than that is embarrassing.

Witten feels like this is "his team,'' that he represents it and that it represents him, and that anything less than a proper representation is embarrassing.


They feel that way even though they participated in but three snaps. They weren't on the field for 49ers linemen running the wrong way with a pick-six. They weren't on the field when 10 guys lined up to block a kick. They probably know nothing about a teammate who cockily made himself a $100 Super Bowl bet.

But they still own this, as you can tell when you hear Witten say, “Collectively, we didn’t play good enough. “There is no good feeling that comes from this. You want to play better. We’ll be ready to go. We’ll have to.’’

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