ARLINGTON, Texas – The all-time franchise leader in receptions added another record to his illustrious career with his sixth and final catch on Sunday against the Saints.
Tight end Jason Witten set the single-season record for receptions by a tight end with his 103rd catch of the year, achieving a record that seemed impossible after an uncharacteristically slow start to the year following a spleen injury.
"You've been here 10 years, you would have rather it come in a different way when you can go out and have a win and enjoy it," Witten said, "but it's something that's special. Obviously, there's been a lot of good tight ends play for a long time here. I have so much respect for the game and this position. To break that, it's special, probably more so this year because of the way the season started for me. It's something I'll remember for a long time."
The way the season started was eerie and almost painful to watch.
Witten was never himself in the first three weeks of the season after returning early from a lacerated spleen. He caught just eight passes on 21 targets in his first three games, but he turned his campaign around beginning in Week 4 with 13 catches against the Bears. He's had at least four catches in every game since, including 10 outings with at least six receptions.
"He's a role model to many young guys, players, young kids," said wide receiver Miles Austin. "He always shows up and is the consummate professional."
The tight end caught two passes in overtime Sunday to break Tony Gonzalez's mark of 102 catches, which Gonzalez set in 2004.
Witten finished with six catches for 60 yards Sunday. His 103 catches on the year mark the second time a Cowboys player has reached the 100-reception mark, after Michael Irvin accomplished the feat with 111 catches in 1995.
"If you ask (Witten), he's going to say it doesn't really mean anything because our sole objective today was to win a ball game," said head coach Jason Garrett. "We didn't get that done, but if you want to step back and take that emotion out of it for a second, he's had a remarkable year. There's no question about that. I think a remarkable year under any circumstances, but particularly the circumstances he started the season with."
Witten, who caught 96 passes in 2007 and 94 passes in 2009 and 2010, will need nine catches against the Redskins to surpass Irvin. He already bested Irvin's all-time receptions mark earlier this year.
"I'm thankful I have him as my tight end," said quarterback Tony Romo. "Jason's had an incredible season, an incredible career and it keeps getting better and better."
Witten said the only thing that would have made Witten's day more special would have been a victory, which he thought was bound to happen after the Cowboys overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
"When we hit that touchdown going to overtime, there's just a feeling on that sideline and you had a situation third-and-4, third-and-5 there, you'd like to convert it and keep it going," Witten said. "Great energy, great group of guys. We don't know what's going to happen here, but we've got to stay focused and keep going and hopefully the chips fall where we can still get in if we win next week."