IRVING, Texas – That Cowboys player with a team-leading 88 catches is sure having himself a heck of a season after a slow, inconsistent start to the year.
Wait, that's not Dez Bryant?
The clutch catches made by Jason Witten, who leads all NFL tight ends by 15 receptions and tops all Cowboys players by 17 receptions, tend to get overlooked or underappreciated because they happen so frequently.
It's much more of a shock when Witten doesn't catch a pass thrown his direction. More than 72 percent of the time this year, a toss to Witten has ended up as a reception.
For many weeks, with DeMarco Murray out, he was the running game. Remember that time Witten finished a game with fewer than six catches? It hasn't happened since Week 3, when he was likely still overcoming either the pain or the mental block of a spleen injury that would have kept most players out for far more time.
Only one time in the last seven weeks has another Cowboys player recorded more receptions than Witten. That occurred during Bryant's 12-catch performance against the Browns three games ago.
Some receivers can disappear in head coach Jason Garrett's offense from time to time, which Garrett would attribute to the amount of outside threats in the Cowboys' system. That may be the case when one receiver gets targeted a significant amount more than the rest, which happens when quarterback Tony Romo finds a matchup he likes.
But when Witten's performing well, it makes everyone better, including the receivers. Safeties know where Witten is at all times. When a defense leaves Bryant without a safety over the top, there's a good chance Witten plays a factor.
Witten caught six passes for 108 yards last weekend against the Eagles. He also helped open lanes for Bryant to grab six passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. For the third straight week, both players finished with at least six receptions.
The consistency demonstrated by both players now forces a defense to think twice about who to double team or how to handle a safety, leaving one of the two players in a favorable matchup.
With Bryant's four straight games with a touchdown and two straight outings with two touchdowns, it's easy to forget about Witten's conversion on a third-and-10 in the first quarter or his conversion on a third-and-4 in the second quarter, the latter of which occurred on the same drive he caught a 28-yard pass to the Eagles' 1-yard line to set up Murray's rushing touchdown.
For the first time all year, Witten added the deep ball to his repertoire more than once. Bryant's longest reception on the day went for 35 yards. Witten's went for 36.
What Bryant has been able to do in catapulting himself into Pro Bowl consideration the last few weeks shouldn't be disregarded. But neither should the play of Witten, who has already helped Bryant become the kind of receiver everyone around the organization knew he had the talent to be. Their ability to demonstrate the same kind of consistency in the final weeks of the regular season could determine whether or not a playoff push will be possible.