It was bad enough for the Dallas Cowboys that they were involved in one of the ugliest football games you'll ever see -- their 3-0 snoozer over the Oakland Raiders on Monday night provided a pretty decent argument for the nascent "abolish football crowd." Worse still was the serious spleen injury suffered by tight end Jason Witten, who is now recovering from a small but "very serious" laceration that may very well threaten his participation in the Cowboys' regular-season opener against the New York Giants on September 5.
Missing time would be a very serious hit for Witten, who hasn't missed a game since his rookie season of 2003. The 10-year veteran caught 79 passes for 942 yards and five touchdowns. It's clear that Witten is one of the true warriors of the game, and guys like that hate being off the field like nothing else.
That's why Tony Romo, Witten's quarterback, is more worried about his teammate from a personal perspective right now. Put simply, Witten doesn't know how to deal with what he perceives to be letting his team down.
"I know Jason is down because he hates missing anything football-related and that is part of his greatness," Romo said after Wednesday's practice. "We're lucky to have a guy like him. He's an example for everybody. These young guys can watch him go about his business day in and day out and they can improve tremendously just through osmosis.
"I can count the number of practices on one hand he hasn't been out there since I've been playing. I know this is going to be tough on him. At the same time, he's a great teammate. He's going to do everything he can to get back for our first game. But his well being is the first and foremost thing I think about. We want to make sure he does everything right to make sure that he's healthy. When he comes back, it will make everyone's job a lot easier. We look forward to that."
True to form, Witten spent time on the field for Wednesday's walkthrough, though he was not on the field for the full practice. Doctors have told him to limit his movement while he's healing. Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, who played through wrist and hamstrung injuries in 2011 and has become a major part of Dallas' pass defense, said that it was odd not to have Witten on the practice field.
"He's the guy that sets the pace for us on and off the field and he's an unbelievable player and unbelievable leader," Lee said. "We're going to have to rally to fulfill those shoes. It's going to be tough ... I think everybody's still practicing hard, but we've got to continue that high intensity because he's the guy that sets the pace. Everybody else is going to have to step up."
In the meantime, it's hoped that Witten will realize that there's a life outside of football, and that taking care of himself is just as important as getting back to the game.