IRVING, Texas — Dallas Cowboys receiver Patrick Crayton lost two jobs after one game, then responded by scoring two touchdowns the next.
That’s just what those around the self-described “seventh-rounder coming out of a small school” would have expected.
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips even suggested that Crayton played better with the proverbial chip on his shoulder after the receiver complained mildly last week that he had to figure out his demotions on his own.
“I’ve still got it,” Crayton said Thursday, glancing at his left shoulder . “It just got a little bigger last week. It’s going to stay there. It’s a permanent fixture there.”
For his part, Phillips countered by saying coaches did talk to him. The truth hardly matters to former Cowboys quarterback Babe Laufenberg, now a member of the team’s radio crew. He offered coaches a solution on the air: Keep talking to him if you did, quit talking to him if you didn’t.
Laufenberg’s reasoning came moments after Crayton returned a punt 73 yards for the clinching score in a 37-21 victory against Atlanta. The first punt return TD of his career came two quarters after he broke off a route in the end zone when he saw Tony Romo scrambling, found an open spot and caught a 5-yard touchdown.
Crayton was returning punts again because Allen Rossum injured a hamstring the first time he touched the ball as a Cowboy, on an Atlanta kickoff. Rossum was signed exclusively as a return man three days after Crayton muffed a punt and almost botched another at Kansas City.
Now Crayton has punt return duty again, including today against Seattle, because Rossum is out 2-to-4 weeks.
Dropped passes didn’t cost Crayton his starting spot at receiver. Miles Austin simply took it away with a franchise-record 250 yards and two touchdowns when he made his first career start in place of the injured Roy Williams against the Chiefs.
Austin went off again last week, getting 171 yards and two more long touchdowns against the Falcons. But Crayton found a way to contribute, just as Romo predicted when he said he wasn’t worried about the sixth-year player from Northwestern Oklahoma State, a tiny NAIA school.
“He understands that he’s going to play a ton,” Romo said before the win over the Falcons. “To think he’s not going to be a major part of this offense is wrong.”
Crayton was hardly a whiner when assessing his situation last week. He said he would have liked to hear something from the coaching staff, but didn’t act like it was hard to figure out.
“I had a dropped pass and a muffed punt,” he said. “And the other guy had 250 yards.”
Crayton dismissed the suggestion that he should start ahead of Roy Williams, the former University of Texas star who cost Cowboys owner Jerry Jones three draft picks and a new $45 million contract last year. Compared to Williams, who has been injured, Crayton has more catches (17-12), yards (252-230) and touchdowns (2-1).
“When you give up a first, a third and a sixth and pay a guy that much, he has to play,” Crayton said.
Jason Witten liked what he saw from Crayton during a tough week, and the tight end stands by his contention that Romo is more comfortable with Crayton than any other receiver.
“It’s a long season of ups and downs, and the mental side of the game is what it’s all about,” Witten said. “I think he did a great job of understanding those challenges and really just stepping up and being the same guy every day. And it showed on Sunday.”