IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten feels every breath he takes because of a broken rib. Sleeping is difficult and doctors have told him that it could be three or four weeks before his side will feel any better.
Yet, Witten still hopes to play Sunday against the NFC East-leading and rival New York Giants.
"I hope I can get out there and help," Witten said in the locker room Thursday before practice. "It's a big game obviously, and do my part."
During the early portion of practice open to reporters, Witten was in shorts and doing conditioning drills on the side with a team trainer. It was the second day in a row he didn't practice.
Witten, the NFC leader with 46 catches, said he would like to get some practice reps this week, but still described himself as a game-time decision.
"They've told me they were going to discuss it. It depends how good I tell them I'm feeling. But they've been great to work with," he said. "Obviously the doc wanted to talk to me about it as it gets closer here. We'll see how it goes."
The Cowboys (5-3), who had lost three of four games before their 13-9 victory Sunday over Tampa Bay, are already without quarterback Tony Romo (broken pinkie) and guard Kyle Kosier (foot) on offense and several injured defenders.
Henry was hurt Sunday, and Spencer missed the last two games.
Witten got hurt at the end of the first quarter against the Buccaneers, on his 8-yard catch or blocking on a run the next play. After getting treatment and X-rays, which were negative, the four-time Pro Bowler tried to return after halftime, but came out for good after only a few plays.
An MRI later revealed the broken rib.
Because the Cowboys have their open date after the Giants game, Witten could get extended time to heal if he doesn't play Sunday. Witten knows that, but said he is feeling better every day and optimistic about playing.
"To have 20 days and be able to rest, that makes a lot of sense," Witten said. "At the same time, if you can go out there and help and take that chance. ... The damage is done and just dealing with the pain, I want to go out there and help the team if I'm able to do that."
When Witten broke his jaw as rookie in 2003, he had several plates implanted to fix it and missed only one game. His career-best 53-yard gain came on a play last year when he kept running after his helmet got knocked off and he got a bloody nose.
In the home opener this season, Witten left midway through the second quarter because of a hurting right shoulder. He found out it wasn't broken, got a shot and came back to catch a long pass that set up a field goal before halftime. Another long catch set up the winning touchdown in a 41-37 victory over Philadelphia.
"Tony and Martellus, they need to understand that it's a huge challenge," Witten said. "You have a veteran guy ahead of you, sometimes you don't prepare as well as you should, and it showed a little bit in last week's game. ... I hope that they can if I can't go."