IRVING, Texas – There’s not going to be a dramatic game time decision this week –
If Ware’s participation in the Cowboys’ Wednesday and Thursday practices wasn’t indication enough, the All-Pro defensive end said so himself outside the Dallas locker room.
It’s been roughly a month since Ware left Dallas’ Oct. 13 win against Washington early with a quad injury. His absence – three games’ worth – has to feel like an eternity for a player who had never missed a game prior to this season.
“You get frustrated, but you’ve got to find some type of positive note,” Ware said. “For me, watching the game from the sideline was a little bit different. I see how guys attack us and how they attack me in certain situations, and it’ll make me better coming in this week.”
The parallels to the Cowboys’ last trip to New Orleans couldn’t be more obvious. Four years ago, the Cowboys limped into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with an 8-5 record, having lost two straight, to play an undefeated Saints squad.
To make matters worse, Ware had suffered what appeared to be a devastating injury in San Diego just a week prior. Ware wasn’t just doubtful for the tilt against Drew Brees and Co. – he was doubtful, period.
“I didn’t think I was going to play for a long time, until – sometimes, when you go in certain places, you get certain vibes or you feel a certain way that you can do it,” he said. “And I think you get confidence from your teammates to get out there and play. That’s the way I felt – not letting them down.”
Of course, Ware didn’t just wind up playing – he starred. He sacked Brees twice, pressured him three times and forced two fumbles, the second of which ended New Orleans’ hope of a comeback. The Cowboys used the win to catapult to a 11-5 record and their most recent playoff appearance.
“I think how monumental that game was – it was a big game for us. It was like one of those turn-around-season games,” Ware said. “It was one of those type of things where it was like ‘OK, it’s a blessing to be out here again, from what I went through.”
Brees certainly hasn’t forgotten, and it’s not just the 2009 game, either. In four career meetings against the Saints, Ware has notched 10 tackles, four sacks, one tackle for loss, four quarterback hits and the aforementioned two forced fumbles.
Those aren’t the type of numbers the opposing quarterback is likely to forget.
“He’s a stud – he’s such a stud,” Brees said. “He’s a guy you’ve got to have a plan for at all times – where is he, how do you protect him, how are you taking care of him and all that stuff. You know the leadership he brings, you know the productivity he brings, and he’s just a gamechanger. You’ve just got to be ready for him.”
The ideal scenario is a return to typical form, but it remains to be seen how effective Ware can be when he does return. His worst outing against the Saints came in last season’s overtime loss, when he was hampered by injuries.
Ware knows he has some catching up to do once he does return. He recorded all four of his sacks this season in just two of his six appearances, and problems with stingers bothered him in those outings.
The result is that he’s tied for just 37th the league in sacks – a good bit off the league pace of 11.5 set by Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis, and the NFC lead of 10 by St. Louis’ Robert Quinn.
“You know I’m behind, so I guess I’ve got to hop on the saddle and start riding a little bit,” Ware said.
That might be easier said than done, with all the injuries on the Cowboys’ defensive front. Dallas has leaned heavily on a parade of unknown free agents to offset the loss of several starters.
Of course, now that Ware has rounded into shape, it’s starting defensive tackles
With the issues they’ve already overcome, though, Ware said he’s got confidence in whoever lines up on what has now become a famous group of non-famous people.
“You know what? It’s the no-name defensive line,” Ware said with a smile. “We’ve got guys coming in that can play, and we have confidence in those guys to play. Hatcher and Nick will get out there and play and do the best that they can.”