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NFL playoffs expected to spotlight regional talent with Jones, Sensabaugh, Witten

January 7th, 2010 12:00 am by Rain Smith

When the NFL wild card playoffs kick off this weekend, several players from the Tri-Cities region will likely play pivotal roles.


The action begins Saturday in the AFC, when the Cincinnati Bengals host the New York Jets at 4:30 p.m.  With rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez at the helm of the Jets offense, running back Thomas Jones, a Big Stone Gap, Va., native and former standout at Powell Valley High School, may be looked upon to carry the load.


At 31 years old, when most running backs are considered on the downside of their careers, Jones racked up single-season career bests in carries (331), yards (1,402) and touchdowns (14). The yardage and TD totals ranked third among all running backs in the NFL.


Despite those gaudy numbers, Jones was snubbed in voting for the Pro Bowl. But he recently told NFL Total Access he's not concerned with recognition for himself, but postseason success for his team.  


"The thing about me, I'm an extreme team player," Jones said. "I don't really play for personal accomplishments."


"For me I'm just glad to have the opportunity to be in the playoffs, and have a chance to play in the Super Bowl. This is my tenth year in the league, so I'm definitely hungry for that."


Click here to watch Jones' interview on the NFL Network, where he discusses the impending battle with the Bengals.


Following Saturday's AFC tilt, the NFC playoffs begin at 8 p.m. with the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Philadelphia Eagles.


Over the course of his seven seasons in the league, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has become a staple of the Dallas offense, favorite target of quarterback Tony Romo -- and heralded as one of the greats at his position.


Witten, who played for Elizabethton and the University of Tennessee, recorded 94 receptions in 2009. That was the second highest total among tight ends, and ninth best for the entire league. His 523 career catches currently rank fifth for most by a tight end in NFL history.


However, despite his success with Dallas, Witten has yet to enjoy a playoff victory -- and the Cowboys have suffered five consecutive postseason losses since 1996.


"I never would have thought that, with the tradition that's been here," Witten said of the playoff drought in Thursday's Philadelphia Inquirer. "Not only that, with the commitment that Jerry and the Jones family gives you. I just never thought that I would be in this situation."


"It's been sour moments, but for the most part I just appreciate where I'm at now. I hope that I can be a part of the process of switching that and turning it."


CLICK HERE for a video interview with Witten from DallasCowboys.com, in which he discusses the playoffs being a new season.


On the defensive side of the ball for Dallas, Kingsport native and Dobyns-Bennett High School product Gerald Sensabaugh is spotlighted at safety. After being signed as a free agent from Jacksonville this past off season, Sensabaugh has brought stability and solid play to a Cowboys secondary that was often victimized in recent years.


In the final two regular seasons games, the Dallas defense shutout divisional foes Washington and Philadelphia, who they now face six days later. 


"The offense is putting up points early, so that makes the game even easier when you know the team is trying to play catchup all game," Sensabaugh told DallasCowboys.com. "As long as we go out there and play like we've been playing we'll be fine."


CLICK HERE to view the entire video interview with Sensabaugh.


Since the Eagles were shutout 24-0 by Dallas on Sunday, Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson has taken shots at the Cowboys secondary via social networking sites on the Internet.


"Them boys are scared of me," Jackson said on UStream. "I'm a dual threat on that field. They be having like four people on your boy out there, but it's all good."


Jackson, who has been held to five catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns over two games versus Dallas this season, also tweeted following Sunday's loss: "Got smashed by them cowboys 2daaaaaay sheeeeesh its all good we gonna sting they ass next week..."

According to the Houston Chronicle, Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins may use Jacksons' comments to inspire Sensabaugh and fellow Dallas safety Ken Hamlin.

“If I go in there and show (Jackson's) video to those guys who probably didn't see it, like the safeties,” Jenkins said, “they're probably going to go at his head.”


Both of Saturday's Wild card playoff games can be viewed on NBC, beginning at 4:30 p.m. with New York versus Cincinnati. 

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