For openers, a different Jason Witten

IRVING, Texas – As the days wound down before the 2012 season opener, Jason Witten was practicing but unsure if he would be cleared to play against the New York Giants because of a lacerated spleen.

Hours before kickoff, he received clearance and caught two passes for 10 yards in the Dallas Cowboys’ 24-17 victory. To coach Jason Garrett, that will be Witten’s signature game.

On Aug. 13, 2012, Witten suffered the spleen injury against the Oakland Raiders. That Sept. 5, he was playing with minimal extra padding and minimal practice.

“I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Witten said. “That was a pivotal time in my career. Just to see your teammates, how they support you and what they expect from you. It was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with him?’ They weren't used to seeing that. So I think I learned about how much I loved playing this game. You also learn when you are going through those types of injuries to eliminate all the distractions and allow yourself to be successful.”

Witten went on to be the Cowboys’ winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, and he finished with 110 catches, an NFL record for a tight end, but he wasn’t the same guy in the first three weeks, with numerous drops and just eight catches.

In Week 4 against Chicago, he caught 11 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. He had fewer than five catches in a game just once the rest of the season.

Witten’s worries this year are only about the Giants as he prepares for the opener.

“I’m glad I’m not experiencing that,” Witten said. “It was a whirlwind, going down to the wire and flying to New York early. I’m in such a better position physically to perform better.”