ATLANTA – It may not happen now, this week or even this year, but one day Jason Witten will look back to Sunday night's loss and cherish what he accomplished as an individual.
The Cowboys tight end became the franchise's all-time leader in receptions, passing Michael Irvin's mark of 750 catches in the fourth quarter against the Falcons. In typical Witten fashion, he didn't seem jubilant about the individual accolade when it meant his team failed in the process.
"To pass Michael and what he stood for and how he worked and obviously the player he was, that's special for me," Witten said. "But ultimately … you don't play to get catches. You play to compete for a championship and win ballgames. That's been my approach since day one when I arrived in Dallas, and that'll be my approach until I leave."
Witten needed four catches to break Irvin's record. He tied it with two catches in the third quarter and broke the record on a 7-yard catch on the Cowboys' only touchdown drive of the game in the fourth quarter, marking one of four fourth-quarter catches for the tight end, who finished with seven catches for 51 yards.
The tight end was once again Tony Romo's most reliable target, catching seven passes on eight targets, including two catches on the touchdown drive. He finished the night with 754 career receptions, reaching the 750-catch mark eight games faster than Irvin.
Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe are the only other tight ends in NFL history to reach 750 career receptions. Witten reached the mark 12 games faster than Gonzalez and 18 games faster than Sharpe.
"I don't want to neglect what happened," Witten said. "I'm tremendously humbled. From day one when I came here as a 20-year-old kid, I was just trying to do better each time I got an opportunity."
His 51 yards Sunday increased his season total to 538 receiving yards, marking his ninth consecutive season with at least 500 yards. Gonzalez leads all tight ends with 14 consecutive 500-yard seasons.
Witten's got a long way to go to reach Gonzalez in receptions and receiving yards, but it's fitting he set the Cowboys tight end record against arguably the most accomplished receiving tight end in league history. Both players have been to their share of Pro Bowls, where they've developed their relationship and friendship over the years.
Gonzalez described Witten as one of the rare complete tight ends and a dedicated worker who puts in the necessary work to be elite. Gonzalez wasn't shocked the Cowboys tight end approached the record this week.
"The way he prepares and the type of work that he puts into it, you can't be surprised when he has that type of success, because he pays the price for it," Gonzalez said.