Cowboys won’t rule out Ware despite scary hit

Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware could play Saturday

night, an encouraging sign after a scary headfirst collision that

left him sprawled on the field for several anxious minutes.

“He’s actually a lot better today,” coach Wade Phillips said

Monday. “He’s really in a day-to-day situation as far as where

he’s going to be, as far as being able to play. He took quite a hit

but has really bounced back strong. That’s encouraging for him and

us.”

After Ware got hurt in the fourth quarter of a 20-17 loss Sunday

against San Diego, the Cowboys on Monday described Ware’s injury as

a strained muscle in his neck. Ware was taken off the field

strapped to a stretcher and went to the hospital for further

evaluation before being released several hours later.

“It’s not anything more than that,” said Phillips, adding that

Ware had no concussion-like symptoms.

With a short week of preparation before playing at undefeated

New Orleans, the players were off Monday and unavailable for

comment. They return to practice Tuesday.

Backup safety and special teams player Pat Watkins sprained his

left knee on a kickoff return Sunday and will be out at least two

weeks, maybe the rest of the regular season. Phillips also said

tight end Martellus Bennett has not been cleared to play after

experiencing concussion-like symptoms that kept him out against the

Chargers. Bennett will also miss the New Orleans game.

Phillips said safety Ken Hamlin, who missed the last four games

with a high right ankle sprain, will start “working back in” at

practice this week. Phillips isn’t sure if Hamlin will play against

the Saints but said there is a chance.

The Cowboys (8-5) have dropped a game behind Philadelphia in the

NFC East after consecutive losses to start December.

Ware was hurt while pursing quarterback Philip Rivers. The

three-time Pro Bowl linebacker got around another offensive lineman

and then went headfirst into the upper leg of lineman Brandyn

Dombrowski. Ware remained on the ground, then was immobilized and

put on a stretcher before being taken off the field on a cart.

In October, Ware agreed to a $78 million, six-year contract

extension through the 2015 season that included a $20 million

signing bonus. The 27-year-old was in the final year of the

contract he signed after being selected with the 11th overall pick

in the 2005 draft.