The question was put as delicately as it could be put to DeMarcus Ware.
Are people correct to think your sack totals are declining because you’re getting later into your career?
The response was not delicate: “Tell them to get in front of me and see if they can block me. Then we’ll go from there.”
With that answer, the franchise’s all-time sack leader signaled his intention not to fade away as the Dallas Cowboys go into the final three games with a chance to win the NFC East, a task that could require them to win all three games.
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“It’s December. It’s when the lights come and you’ve got to separate yourself,” the defensive end said.
Owner Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett all said it this week — Ware needs to perform. The quadriceps injury is behind him, and he needs to perform.
“He needs to be more productive,” Garrett said. “He understands that. We understand that.”
Jerry Jones said in a radio interview, “He should actually be in the prime of his career, candidly, strength-wise, explosion-wise. That’s one of the things we got to, I think, count on, is him having more impact in the game as he moves away from his injury.”
Ware said he heard the owner’s message.
“Oh, I hear that,” he said. “I said it to myself before he even said it. After that Monday night game, he came back and said it on Tuesday, and I feel him. I feel the same way. In key situations and at key times, players should step up and be their worst critics and at the end of the day, go out and practice and correct what you need to correct to be more effective for that next week. And I feel like I’m progressing and doing that.”
Ware declared himself at full health last week. But against Chicago on Monday night, when the defense didn’t force a punt, he registered only one sack, and it was late in the game, with the outcome already decided.
Since coming back from the quadriceps injury that kept him out three games (the first missed games of his career), the ninth-year pro has two sacks in four games. He has six for the season. Unless he gets two more, he’ll end up with a career low.
“I think every week you have to be your worst critic,” Ware said. “That’s me. I know I haven’t been playing the way I need to be playing, so you go back to the drawing board and say, hey, what am I doing wrong? What do I need to change to be effective? It’s the small things. It goes back to fundamentals, doing the bags, doing the tackling drills, doing those types of things. It’s the small things you do good that make you great.”
Ware has long been great. His 117 sacks rank 18th in NFL history. Since 2005, he has more sacks than anyone in the league.
But with only 24 tackles, he is headed toward a career low. And he has not forced a fumble this season, which would be a first for a player with 32 career strips.
He made an interception on the first play of the season, but that is his only contribution to the Cowboys’ 25 takeaways.
“I see a guy who is close,” Ware said, asked what he sees of himself on film. “I hit the quarterback like three times, and actually hit the ball three times. The thing is, those plays were converted a while back, and those are the plays that we really need, and those strip-sacks and making those big plays — we haven’t been doing that, getting those turnovers like we need.”
Ware said he is not frustrated by anything.
“I see myself getting there,” he said. “But it’s making those big plays when the opportunity arises. Just hitting the ball is not doing any good — you have to knock the ball out. You got to make those big plays, and I haven’t been doing that, so I’ve got to start doing that this week.”
He said there are no excuses. He is healthy. He is ready to be a disruptive force over the last three games.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” he said. “I know that for a fact.”
So he believes he can be the DeMarcus Ware of old?
“What’s my name?” he said to the reporter who asked.
“All right. Ain’t nothing changed.”