Making today's likely achievement even more special is the presence of Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez on the opposing team. Gonzalez might be the best tight end in NFL history. He is No. 1 all-time in catches and yards with 1,195 catches and 13,797 yards. Witten is third in both categories behind Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.
“It's obviously unique because he's the best to ever do it, and that will make it special to play against him,” Witten said. “When I came in the league, that was the guy, still is today, that you kind of modeled your game off of, and really looked at and said ‘hey, this is the guy, how he does it and how he approaches it.' More than anything, the tough catches that he makes. You watch them, a lot of them are nondescript plays, but it's pretty amazing. I obviously have got a lot of respect for him, being able to play with him in a lot of Pro Bowls and pick his brain.”
The 36-year-old Gonzalez, a 16-year veteran who has already announced plans to retire at the end of the season, is not surprised at Witten becoming the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver — not after watching him catch a team-record 18 passes against the New York Giants last Sunday. And not after getting to know him over the years during trips to the Pro Bowl and appearances at the Super Bowl over the years.
“He's a pass-catching machine,” Gonzalez said. “He's been able to stay healthy. Obviously, he's the blanket for (Cowboys quarterback) Tony Romo. He's going to him on checkdowns and quick routes. The way he prepares, the work he puts into it, it can't be a surprise.”
Gonzalez was certainly on point with Witten being Romo's security blanket, and that's on and off the field. Witten is one of Romo's closest friends as well as his favorite target.
“I think Jason has been amazing for a long, long time. In some ways, he's gotten better. That's a great accomplishment in and of itself,” Romo said. “He's as good as it gets. There is not another tight end out there who has played the game better than he has.”
While Gonzalez's presence on the field tonight makes Romo's final point debatable, there is no question about Witten's place in Cowboys history. The team's hallowed Ring of Honor is certainly in his future, as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame, for which Garrett called him a lock.
But just like passing Irvin as the Cowboys' leading receiver, those are things Witten will think about and appreciate when he retires.
“(The time to appreciate the record) will probably be at the end of your career when you have the time,” Witten said. “There's no question when you're on that journey, you want to be the best. The ultimate goal is to win the championship. There have been a lot of records set here after those guys won Super Bowls, too. It's easy to celebrate that because they have three of them in the back of their hip pockets. We don't have that. For me, that's the ultimate quest that you're on.”
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