The Cowboys sat down to watch the Oakland film from the preseason last year.
“It took me a while to catch on,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, the play.’ ”
Yes, the play.
The play in Oakland a year ago, a pass from a scrambling Tony Romo that Witten caught in an awkward position, spun and turned directly into a hit that resulted in a lacerated spleen.
The injury was the most severe of Witten’s career, threatening his chance not only to play in the season opener that year but perhaps the rest of the season – or longer.
It’s worth a shudder as Witten remembers.
“I hope and pray for a different outcome, for sure,” Witten said after practice on Wednesday, the Cowboys’ last contact work before flying to Oakland to get ready for Friday’s game against the Raiders.
“That was just a situation that happened when you play,” Witten said. “I don’t think you worry about that. It’s just an unfortunate situation. But we’ve run that play a lot of times and never had that come up. I can’t really think about it. It was a long three weeks, I know that. But I’m a better person, a better player because of it for sure.”
To recover, Witten was required to have no activity for two weeks. Then, he had about two more weeks to practice on a very limited basis to get ready for Week 1 at the New York Giants. He played in the game, and although he had only two catches for 10 yards, his determination to play proved a rallying point for the Cowboys in a surprise victory.
“Forget 110 catches, forget eight-time Pro Bowl, forget all that stuff,” coach Jason Garrett said. “When you tell the Witten story, I start with that one because I think he showed what he’s all about and what he’s been doing for a long time in this league. I think it’s a great example for the rest of our football team and, really, for the rest of humanity in the whole NFL. That’s how you do it.”
Garrett said he and the organization had a serious concern that Witten’s career might be at risk. Witten had the same thought. His wife, an emergency room nurse, understood the danger if he tried to play in the first game before he was completely healed.
Garrett still shakes his head about Witten’s utter determination.
“We stood right outside that cafeteria about three minutes after he heard the news about what it actually was,” Garrett said. “He said, ‘I’m playing in that Giant game.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘What are you going to do the next couple of weeks?’ He said, ‘I have to be motionless in my bed for two weeks.’
“I was like, ‘Huh. This will be interesting timing.’ ”
Witten knows he had a rough game, and that maybe it wasn’t the best thing for him to play.
“I think the toughest part for me was the poor play was not a result of the injury – it was a result of not practicing,” he said. “You feel like you’re letting down your team because it wasn’t a sense of entitlement or being a tough guy. Going into your 10th year, and you just lost for the division to a team that goes on to win the Super Bowl, to say it was emotional, yeah, it probably was a little bit. But I kind of felt like I was obligated to do that, and something I’m proud of to this day, even though it was a tough stretch there for me.”
-- Carlos Mendez