It is not often a tight end is considered the key to an offense in the NFL. While the position features far more graceful athletes than ever before, it still pales in comparison to quarterback, running back and wide receiver. But Jason Witten is far from your normal tight end.
"[Witten is] Tony Romo's security blanket," NBC football analyst Rodney Harrison said. "Whenever we played against the Cowboys, we felt like if we shut Jason Witten down, we shut their offense down."
The Cowboys tight end has been making plays since he was an undergrad at Tennessee. He is the second-leading receiver in franchise history behind only Michael Irvin, and he is third behind Irvin and Tony Hill is yards. And Witten likely will pass Hill in another week or two if he can stay healthy.
That makes his performance against the Giants on Wednesday in a 24-17 Dallas victory all the more remarkable. Just 23 days after suffering a lacerated spleen during the preseason and after being listed as "doubtful" on the official injury report all week, Witten suited up for the Cowboys and actually caught two passes for 10 yards. It was a modest night numbers-wise but incalculable as a boost for a team that needed to start with a big road win.
Maybe in the end that will prove a short-sighted decision. After all, Dallas needs Witten for a full season, and you have to wonder whether risking rupturing his spleen was worth it. That's an extremely serious injury to try to fight through. His teammates won't see it that way, though. Witten has played in 140 consecutive games and contributed to a monster win. In the NFL that kind of inspiration trumps all.
- Brian McNally