ARLINGTON, Texas- Jason Witten is reliable to the point of predictability. So much so that you could pretty much guess what he would have had to say about passing Michael Irvin to become the Cowboys' all-time leader in reception yards during Sunday night's 19-3 victory over the Giants.
"There have certainly been so many great teammates and coaches along the way who helped me get there," Witten said after the game. "I'll remember this night for a long time. I'm honored to think of the great teammates who've helped because you don't achieve stuff like this alone."
Perhaps it was obvious that Witten would say something along those lines because we've become quite familiar with the veteran tight end's character over the years. Or maybe it's just because this isn't the first record we've seen him surpass during his 15-year career.
With the exception of touchdowns, Witten now holds essentially every significant career receiving record for the Cowboys. Last season he became the franchise leader in catches.
Witten broke the career yardage record with 14:11 left in the second quarter of Sunday night's game when he caught a standard 11-yard pass over the middle. The reception put Dallas in field goal range and Dan Bailey eventually cashed in on three points. The play wasn't flashy, but it was ultimately important, not unlike the Jason Witten Experience over the years.
"Fun happens when you prepare and play with guys who love football," Witten said, looking back on his career. "Then you go out and execute. It's never perfect. There are always times when you're getting better. That's why you hold that standard, so you can always improve."
But on a historic night, Witten would also prove to be Prescott's biggest red zone target when he converted on the Cowboys' touchdown, a 12-yard pass over the middle.
"Being able to help him break that record and being a part of that, that was special," Prescott said.
Prescott was 10 years old when Witten recorded his first opening game reception against the Atlanta Falcons in 2003. Quincy Carter threw that pass. In the years since, Witten has suited up for the Cowboys' opening day every single year. He's started seasons catching passes from Carter, Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde, Prescott and, of course, Tony Romo.
That level of dependability has been what has defined Witten's career. For the past 15 years, he and owner Jerry Jones have been the most consistent mainstays in the Cowboys organization. It's rare for any professional sports owner to develop that kind of mutual loyalty and success with a player.
"I just swelled up with pride when they announced that he had broken that record," Jones said. "He did it in a very needed way. Every play is needed, but boy, we needed him tonight in the same way he's done it throughout his career."
Sure enough, Witten's score was the only touchdown of the game. He also finished with seven receptions for 59 yards.
During his time with the Cowboys, new generations of hyper-athletic tight ends have grabbed the spotlight, but no one has ever been as consistent as Witten. His 2012 NFL records of most receptions in a single season (110) by a tight end and in a single game (18) remain unbroken. His 11,947 receiving yards will remain a Cowboys mark for years.
"The example he sets for each and every one of us each and every day is just remarkable," head coach Jason Garrett said. "I say this in all sincerity: He's getting better and better."
Jones would never claim the Cowboys have ever been an organization to run from a theoretical distraction. The Cowboys have typically entered each season with some sort of question mark or controversy that manages to make it to the top of the NFL scuttlebutt. They've managed plenty of on-field success while embracing that attention as well. And plenty of Cowboy legends have built upon their myth with a flair for the dramatic.
But if those players have represented a thrill and swagger that Cowboys fans carry with them, then Witten has always represented something more comforting: dependability. Witten's ascension to the top of the Cowboys' all-time receiving list is quite literally the sum of every game he's played. This is technically true of every record ever, but in Witten's case, it's somehow truer. Because if there's anything to be said about Witten is that he could be depended on every single game.
"I'm so thankful to be in the position I am right now," Witten said. "I'm really trying to devour where I'm at in this moment. It's a great time in my life."