ARLINGTON, Texas – "What's wrong with Jason Witten?"
That was one of the most commonly asked questions regarding the Cowboys as recently as a month ago. Even more surprising was the fact that one of the most common answers was "Maybe he's over the hill."
On Sunday, Witten silenced any critics who claimed that the tight end's best playmaking years were behind him. Witten not only pulled down a franchise single-game record 18 receptions, but it marked the most in a game by any tight end in NFL history. He also totaled a career-high 167 yards receiving. In fact, Witten caught more passes in the loss than every Giant receiver combined.
As the Cowboys dug themselves out of a 23-point deficit, Witten was relied on heavily as Tony Romo's security blanket. The team had an abysmal 19 yards rushing, but was able to continue to get first downs in the second half, largely due to a heavy dose of short passes to Witten.
"We felt like we had some matchups there underneath," Witten said. "High percentage throws. (We were) able to keep those chains going. It was good to be a big part of that offense."
While Witten racked up the catches, he racked up milestones, too. It was his 16th 100-yard game of his career. Witten now has 51 receptions on the season making it his ninth year with 40-plus catches. Shannon Sharpe (11) and Tony Gonzalez (15) are the only tight ends with more 40-plus-catch seasons.
However, Witten was reluctant to even talk about his record-breaking statistics, especially coming after a loss.
"At this point of your career, you're not worried about that."
Romo certainly took notice of Witten's performance, as the two players may have never had a greater chemistry together as they did in the loss on Sunday.
"He played great," Romo said. "He kept getting open. Once we got in our package when we got behind, we really gave them trouble. … It's something we've got to look at possibly doing more of."
The Cowboys ability to fight back and even take the lead after such an ugly start to the game was no doubt impressive. Witten talked about the perseverance of his team, but stressed the fact that it doesn't mean much without the right results.
"I thought we showed a lot of fight, a lot of battle," Witten said. "To be honest with you, you can't just battle, you have to find ways to win games."
Perhaps even more dramatic in its entirety, the game was reminiscent of the Cowboys' loss to Baltimore, which the Cowboys also had a chance to win in the final seconds. While their resilience deserves credit, this loss leaves them at 3-4 and Witten understands the urgency moving forward.
"The clock is ticking for this football team," Witten said. "It's that point of the season where you got to start putting wins together."
The Cowboys' problems in the game were as apparent to Witten as they were to everyone else: turnovers.
"You can't turn the ball over and win in this league," Witten said. "We know it. … We've got to get it fixed."
The majority of those turnovers came in the first two quarters. Witten only had five receptions at halftime and had only been targeted six times. In the second half, Romo targeted his tight end an additional 16 times and connected with him on 13 of those.
It is probably no coincidence that the turnovers slowed down when Witten became such a big factor in the offense. The "high-percentage throws" that Witten talked about kept the offense in a groove and kept the ball away from the Giants' offense.
Coming off of perhaps the best game of his career, the Cowboys may look to continue to rely very heavily on Witten moving forward.
At 747, Witten is only three catches away from tying Michael Irvin for most receptions in Cowboys' history.