IRVING, Texas – Jason Witten has missed one game in his 13-year NFL career – Oct. 12, 2003 against the Eagles due to a broken jaw. He was a 21-year-old rookie.
Since then he has played in 189 consecutive games, the longest streak of any active NFL position player.
Could two sprained ankles and sprained knee – "bumps and bruises . . . just typical football," as he described it after the Cowboys' win at Philadelphia – actually keep the league's iron man out of Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons?
If Wednesday was any indication, Witten has every intention of playing. He was dressed in full pads during the open portion of practice and was listed as a limited participant.
"He's demonstrated a lot through his career that he can get himself ready to play when things don't always look so good for him early on in the week," head coach Jason Garrett said before practice. "But we have to be ready with a lot of different alternatives."
Witten's streak isn't about the number of games played. It's his value within those previous 189 games. With Dez Bryant (foot) and Tony Romo (collarbone) sidelined for several weeks, quarterback Brandon Weeden needs Witten as a security blanket.
"Talk about a tough dude, man," Weeden said. "I heard he couldn't even walk in here on Monday, and he's doing pretty good (today)."
If Witten is active and limited in any way against the Falcons, the Cowboys will need their backup tight ends to step up.
Gavin Escobar already faces a potentially larger role without Bryant in the lineup. He caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in the season opener against the Giants and nearly had another against the Eagles, though officials ruled he was down by contact at the 1-yard line.
"Every week you have to take it like you're going to be the starter and approach it every game like that," Escobar said. "That's what I'm going to do this week."
Fellow backup James Hanna, who had his knee scoped Saturday, missed the Eagles game and did not practice Wednesday. Garrett suggested Monday he could possibly practice by the end of the week, but rookie Geoff Swaim must stay ready after making his NFL debut last week.
The biggest key, of course, is having Witten on the field.
"I wouldn't bet against him," Escobar said.
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