IRVING, Texas - It almost seems unfair to quantify Jason Witten's gritty performance Wednesday. To his teammates, Witten's debut meant much more than two catches for 10 yards.
The All-Pro tight end was doubtful all week, unlikely to return early from a lacerated spleen he suffered in the first preseason game against the Raiders. It was one of the few injuries he couldn't just shake off without raising serious health concerns.
Head coach Jason Garrett said Witten told him he'd be ready by the opener, even throwing out Navy SEAL quotes and inspirational speeches to try to sway his coach. But the decision couldn't be made by Garrett or Witten.
"This is very different from an ankle or a knee or, 'How are you feeling, hey can you go?' It wasn't that kind of a discussion at all," Garrett said. "It wasn't going to be in my hands at all. It was not going to be a football decision. It was going to be a medical decision between Jason and the doctor."
Witten said it had been a crazy week leading into the game, awaiting word from the doctors while staying as optimistic as possible. He said he felt like he was getting better and better before receiving the news from his CT scan.
When the Cowboys took the field at MetLife Stadium, there was Witten, on the field and suited up. Doctors had cleared him to play the night before.
"He is probably the most dedicated football player that I have ever been around," Garrett said. "I thought his performance tonight was as inspirational of a performance as I've seen from a guy who has been awfully good and awfully inspiring for a lot of years in this league. He was determined to play."
The 10 yards also gave him 7,919 for his career and allowed him to overtake Jackie Smith (7,918) for fourth on the NFL's all-time tight ends receiving yards list. Though Witten's numbers weren't flashy, quarterback Tony Romo said the tight end's presence allowed Kevin Ogletree to break free all night.
Romo praised Witten's courage and commitment to the team. He said Witten is "the best teammate" – a player the Cowboys are lucky to have in the locker room.
"Jason is as good a player as there is at his position," Romo said. "When a guy like that steps on the football field, it changes the dynamic. It really does."
Witten said, if nothing else, he knew he could provide a morale boost against the NFC East rivals who knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs last year. He said he was cautious with the injury, but if he was cleared, he wasn't going to miss the opener on the road against the Giants.
"Hey look, I wasn't anything remarkable," Witten said. "I had a job to do just like everybody else on this team. I just tried to do it. We knew this was a big game, but it was only one game. We have a long way to go. It's good to come up here and start the season off with a big win."
Ogletree finished with 114 yards and two touchdowns, Miles Austin had four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown and Dez Bryant added another 85 yards. But when the game was over, owner Jerry Jones' main focus wasn't on a wide receiver.
"I'm particularly proud of Jason Witten," Jones said. "That was a great effort on his part. I'm not too sure how many plays he ran, but it was a lot more than I thought he was going to run."