PHOENIX– Not since his rookie season, some 11 years ago, has Jason Witten seen his statistics as low as they were in 2014.
His 703 receiving yards were the lowest since he had just 347 in 2003. That was also the only season he had fewer receptions (35) than the 64 he hauled in this past season.
But all year long, Witten's head coach Jason Garrett raved about his play, continuing to call him the best overall tight end in the game and even said a few weeks ago that Witten could be having his best season of his career.
Never one to pat himself on the back, Witten didn't exactly shrug off that notion.
"In a lot of ways, I think it was," Witten said Wednesday at a community event at the Pro Bowl. "It's a lot more than just a catch or a pass down the middle."
Witten embraced a more blocking-oriented role as the Cowboys focused more on running the ball. Oftentimes he stayed in to block on third-downs, and with the success the team had running the ball, the opportunities to throw were reduced. Still, Witten sounded as proud to make this Pro Bowl – his 10th of his 12-year career – than any of the others.
"I felt really good about it," Witten said when asked about his 2014 performance. "I knew going into the season it was going to be a different role, not only did I embrace that role, but I had some success with that. I had some big blocks there. I've always prided myself on being a complete tight end, but to be able to be a huge contributor with that, it was good for me to say, 'hey I can make a commitment to something and then have a role in that.'
But Witten said he was able to embrace that role without completely transforming away from being a pass-catcher as well.
"I always felt like I could still make big plays," Witten said. "That's what is great about coach (Scott) Linehan. He believes that. You show it in practice, you just have to capitalize when the opportunity comes. I was able to keep the same mindset of having big third-down conversions and some big plays at key times, that kind of built for what (Garrett) has said about my best year."
While Witten wasn't originally voted in to the Pro Bowl, and wasn't even the first alternate, which ironically went to his former teammate and understudy Martellus Bennett, Witten knows the selections all count the same.
"I think when you come into the league you don't ever envision 12 years later you can say you've been to 10 pro bowls," Witten said. "It's a huge honor. I've been fortunate to be able to play in a good system and good people around you, help you success. This year is different because it was a different goal. To end up back here definitely feels good how things went for me this year."
Witten's 10 Pro Bowl selections now ranks second in Cowboys history, tied with the likes of Mel Renfro and Larry Allen. The trio only trails Bob Lilly with 11 trips to the Pro Bowl.
"When Mr. Jones called to tell me, he mentioned some of those names," Witten said. "I've always been a guy that has prided myself on doing it year in and year out and having a high standard. But to be mentioned with those guys, those were some of the best of the best."
That being said, Witten should feel right at home.