After slamming the crown of his helmet into the thigh of San Diego offensive lineman Brandyn Dombrowski, Dallas outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware lay motionless on the turf. At first, he lay on his side, with one arm twisted across his body. After getting rolled on to his back, he remained still, as team medical personnel and trainers strapped him down to a board, his head immobilized. They removed his facemask from his helmet and removed him from the field on a cart.
Ware had jammed his neck, but at the time, the fear was that the injury could have been a lot worse. Injuries that affect the spinal column can be beyond scary. The effects of even the most severe injuries to a knee or shoulder or ankle often include scar tissue and a limp, or perhaps a lifetime of limited range of motion.
Back and neck injuries can cause paralysis.
So everyone associated with the Cowboys — coaches, players, fans — and even with the sport of football breathed a deep sigh of relief when the news came out that
Ware’s neck was merely sprained, not broken, and that he might even play this weekend in New Orleans.
Head coach Wade Phillips said Monday of Ware that “if he’s cleared to play, he’ll play.” The reasoning is easy: Dallas is playing the undefeated Saints Saturday, Ware is the team’s best player (on either side of the ball) … if there’s any chance for Dallas to pull off a much-needed upset, Ware should be on the field, right?
The problem with that plan is that the risk outweighs the likely reward. Ware appears to be on the mend, and at 27, he is young enough to expect a full recovery and a long, productive career. With something as delicate as a neck injury, there is no reason to risk it.
The Cowboys can beat the Saints — after all, the Washington Redskins had the Saints on life support before Shaun Suisham shanked a 23-yard chip shot field goal that ultimately cost him his job in Washington. New Orleans followed his miss with a touchdown drive to send the game into overtime, and connected on a short field goal in the extra session to escape Washington with a win.
But the reality is that a Dallas win at New Orleans isn’t likely. Sure, it’s possible, but the Saints haven’t been beaten yet this year. They might have been given a gift in Washington, but they also abused the New England Patriots on national TV. Theirs is an offense that can score at any time, from any position on the field, against any defense. Could they lay an egg again against the Cowboys? Sure. But they also could catch fire in a nationally televised game in their home arena as they get closer to finishing off an undefeated regular season.
There’s no argument that the Dallas defense is better with Ware on the field — after all, the team did see fit to ink a six-year, $78 million extension with him in October. He is a fixture in the Pro Bowl every year, and has established himself as one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL. If he is cleared by the doctors, the urge to play him will be enormous.
Phillips said that while there are times when players have to play with pain, he will not play Ware (or any other player) if it adds risk of serious injury, above and beyond what players encounter in every game.
This is one case when Phillips needs to stick to his word, and sit his best player if Ware is experiencing even the slightest pain or physical limitation. Sitting him might increase the chances the Cowboys lose Saturday in New Orleans, but few are predicting an upset, anyway.
If Dallas splits its two other remaining games against the Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, a loss to New Orleans could mean the Cowboys miss out on the playoffs. But compared to the risk of a more serious injury to Ware that could put his career or physical health in jeopardy, holding him out to protect his future is a small price to pay.