IRVING, Texas (AP) -Jason Witten was just a rookie trying to establish himself in the NFL when he broke his jaw, had several plates implanted to fix it, then got back into the lineup after missing only one game.
Last year, he was just a guy who saw a chance to gain a bunch of yards when he kept running after getting his helmet pried off. He happily traded a bloody nose for a career-best 53-yard gain.
On Monday night, Witten was just eager to get back into the action when he went to the locker room for X-rays on his aching right shoulder midway through the second quarter and learned it wasn't broken. After taking a shot to kill the pain, he caught a long pass that set up a field goal just before halftime, then another biggie that set up the winning touchdown in the Dallas Cowboys' 41-37 victory over Philadelphia.
Ever since, teammates, coaches and owner Jerry Jones have offered all sorts of accolades about Witten, praising his grit, desire and toughness.
said.
Said Witten: Why all the fuss?
``Sometimes, it's made bigger than it really is,'' he said Thursday. ``Yeah, I guess I am a tough player and stuff like that, but I'd hope that everybody else on this team would do the same thing. Realize, you've got a good team, you've got a good opportunity - you've got to take advantage of that, you know. We need all the playmakers we can get out there. I'd do that if there was nobody out there, if it was practice. That's just the way I've always played.''
Witten has been a big part of Dallas' offense since arriving in Bill Parcells' first draft class, in 2003. Things kicked up a notch last season with the arrival of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Witten ended up challenging NFL records for catches, yards and touchdowns by a tight end.
Two games into this season, his 13 catches and 206 yards are best among tight ends and near the top of all receivers.
``It's hard to cover him,'' teammate Terrell Owens said. ``He runs great routes. You put a safety on him, it's going to be tough, as you saw in the last game. He beat one of the best safeties probably in the league (Brian Dawkins). He beat that guy time and time again. If you put a linebacker on him, you expect the same results.''
Witten's role goes deeper than stats.
eiver than No. 2 receiver Patrick Crayton. Witten also is the sixth offensive lineman. And, with Dallas' lone fullback out for the next month, Witten expects to be throwing more lead blocks for running back Marion Barber - bum shoulder or not.
``It's not something I'm worried about or thinking, 'Man, I don't know if I'm going to be able to go,''' Witten said, adding that he has full range of motion. ``I feel fine.''
Not that he'd admit anything different.
Besides, he knows he won't get much sympathy at home. His wife, Michelle, is a former emergency-room nurse.
``She's seen a lot worse than a sprained shoulder,'' he said, laughing.
Even Michelle Witten probably gasped when her husband ran around without his helmet against the Eagles last year.
That play is easily the most memorable of his career because it looks so cool. A signed picture of it hangs over the locker of offensive lineman Marc Colombo, one stall over from Witten's.
The fact it happened late in a game the Cowboys already were comfortably winning adds to the legacy. Still, Witten trumped it with his performance against those same Eagles on Monday night. Unfortunately, there's no single image to sum it up.
ne timeout left.
The first play was a dumpoff to Witten that went for 3 yards. After hurrying back to the line, Witten got free up the middle and Romo spotted him for 42 yards, to the Philadelphia 33. The Cowboys spent the timeout and kicked a field goal to go into the half a touchdown away from the lead.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Eagles leading 37-34, Dallas recovered a fumble. On first down from the Philadelphia 37, Romo again hit Witten down the middle. Two plays later, the Cowboys were back ahead for good.
Final stats: seven catches for 110 yards, with one sprained shoulder, one X-ray and one painkiller.
``Witt is going to be a tough guy,'' T.O. said. ``He's going to play through whatever he has to play through to get the job done.''
re Friday.

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