Record-Setting Day Filled With Normalcy For Do-It-All TE Jason Witten
Around Valley Ranch, appreciation for Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has seen a startling progression over the years. During Witten’s rookie campaign in 2003, then-head coach Bill Parcells would often refer to him as a “blue-eyed All-American boy.” A short time afterwards, Parcells was far more reverent, saying of his Pro Bowl tight end, “Yeah, I’ll take a six-pack of those.”
From reverence to approaching the point of sacrilege was Tony Romo in his praise of the ten-time all-star last September, opining that Witten may be the greatest Cowboys player of all-time. Blasphemy? Probably not. Personal prejudice? Far more likely.
Closer than perhaps anyone else, Romo has been there for every step of Witten’s brilliant thirteen-year career. He’s been a roommate. A friend. A bench-warmer.
And on Sunday, Romo was the returning quarterback as Witten etched his name into the Cowboys franchise record book, surpassing Bob Lilly’s mark of 196 consecutive games played.
In his 201st game as a Cowboy, Witten’s two- catch, 27-yard performance was enough to lift Dallas out of the misery of a seven-game losing streak and beat the Dolphins by a 24-14 score. The win moved the Cowboys to 3-7 on the season, and served as the perfect platform for Witten to celebrate his new-found place in the franchise record book.
Witten now stands alone as the Cowboys’ ultimate “Iron Man,” and stands poised to leave the old record set by “Mr. Cowboy” far behind. How high he can climb up the Cowboys hierarchy list before he calls it a career will likely be up to his body.
Witten, in his thirteenth year in the league, has a lot of miles on his 6-6, 265-pound frame. Though he hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, he has proven to be susceptible to a game that will test one’s durability. Over the course of the last 197 games, Witten has endured broken ribs, a concussion, and a lacerated spleen, in addition to absorbing the everyday bruising punishment that is common in his profession.
Witten is only five catches away from becoming the eleventh player in history to tally 1,000 career receptions, and is almost certain to surpass Marvin Harrison (1,102) for third on the all-time list before he hangs his cleats up. Whether or not he can chase down Tony Gonzalez and Jerry Rice after that remains to be seen.
The nostalgia of the pass-catching tight end which was renewed with the arrival of Tony Gonzalez on the NFL scene in the late 1990s has died down in recent years as a host of prolific names have entered the picture. Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, and Rob Gronkowski are three of the more popular names who have helped to redefine the position with a knack for making plays in the defensive secondary. Witten, for some inexplicable reason that no rational mind can comprehend, is often left out of the limelight.
Despite playing on the team’s most transparent franchise, Witten is rarely mentioned among the league’s elite tight ends for the simple fact that he rarely makes the splash play that lands on Sports Center. Witten has only scored 59 touchdowns in his career. But while he hasn’t piled up the scoring plays like some others, his talents still open up big-play opportunities for others around him.
On a third-and-10 play late in the first half, Witten drew a double-team from the Miami defense, which afforded Terrance Williams one-on-one coverage on the outside. The pass from Romo down the right sideline was perfect, and Williams hauled in the 31-yard scoring pass to give Dallas a 14-0 lead.
And when the Dolphins opted to keep a safety over the top on another third-and-10 early in the fourth quarter, Witten made them pay, catching an 11-yard pass from Romo, setting up Dallas’ final score of the game, a 30-yard field goal from Dan Bailey four plays later.
Unlike the flashy tight ends of the modern era, the majority of Witten’s day was spent in the trenches, opening up running lanes for Darren McFadden and Robert Turbin. Witten has never had the overwhelming physical nature of a Gronk, or the speed and length of a Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, but he has inherited a core set of football fundamentals that make him the prototypical all-around player.
Witten is a blocker first and foremost when on the field, a trait instilled to him by his time spent with Bill Parcells, the quintessential old-school ball coach. When you played for the Tuna, if you couldn’t block, you probably weren’t going to find your way onto the field.
As a dual-threat, Witten makes it easy for the Cowboys offense to squeeze the blood out of the game-clock late in the fourth quarter, like Dallas did on Sunday when they marched 49 yards in 12 plays and burned 5:05 of the final 6:09 off the clock, effectively ending the game. Eleven of the plays were runs to McFadden, good for 35 yards.
In the end, the praise will go to Romo for his successful return, and McFadden for another 100-yard rushing performance. Not that Witten will give it a second thought. For the first time in two months, his Cowboys are winners, a reward more than sweet enough to satisfy the 10-time Pro Bowler.
Tex Schramm invented the Ring of Honor for players just such as Bob Lilly, whom he inducted in November of 1975, less than five months after Mr. Cowboy officially announced his retirement. For Jason Witten, this franchise’s Mr. Iron Man, his post-career wait for such distinction should be equally as short.