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Jason Witten set to break all-time games mark for tight ends

(AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

By JOSH DUBOW

AP Pro Football Writer

When Jason Witten entered the NFL 17 years ago as a third-round pick in Dallas, his famously blunt coach, Bill Parcells, delivered him a simple message.

"He taught me early on, reliability, dependability, consistency, that's how you make it in this game," Witten said Wednesday. "Those are traits that I've kept near and dear to me for my entire career."

For nearly two decades that included a one-year interruption in the "Monday Night Football" announcing booth, Witten has taken that advice to heart.

The 38-year-old Witten has missed only one game in 17 seasons in the NFL and will break Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez's record for tight ends with his 271st career game in Sunday's season finale for the Las Vegas Raiders (7-8) against the Denver Broncos (5-10).

"To have an opportunity like this, I think that's just the way I tried to play," Witten said. "I think in this league, the minute you feel like you've arrived or you belong, you're going to get passed up. I think my advantage and kind of my edge for me was that every day of every moment, I never felt like this game owed me anything. I had to go earn it. That's go out there and play. You hear people talk about it often. It's a `show me' game."

Witten has shown plenty in a career that featured 11 Pro Bowl berths, first-team All-Pro selections in 2007 and 2010, and some of the most prolific stats anyone has put up at the position.

He had eight seasons with at least 75 catches, four 1,000-yard campaigns and ranks second all-time at the position with 1,228 receptions and 13,046 yards, and is fifth with 74 TDs.

The Raiders signed him to a one-year deal for a veteran presence in the tight ends room and are pleased with what they got despite only 13 catches for 69 yards.

"He's been great for the tight ends, he's been great for me, he's been great for our offense," coach Jon Gruden said. "Unfortunately, we have not been able to have a lot of team gatherings, team meals, team meetings because of the protocols and the quarantines and all that stuff. But he's had a real impact on our guys. ... He's one of the great war daddies of all-time and he's going to break Tony Gonzalez's record on Sunday, and it's great to have been a small part of that."

Witten said he hasn't decided whether he wants to try to come back next season or retire for good. He stepped away once already after the 2017 season to replace Gruden as analyst on "Monday Night Football" for ESPN.

That didn't go well and Witten returned to the Cowboys in 2019 before signing with the Raiders this past offseason. Gruden said he believes Witten could follow his path again and get into coaching if he wanted.

"I think he'd be a great coach," Gruden said. "I think after seeing what we went through this year, I'd say hell no, I think he's going to get back into TV or go do something else. But yeah, I think he'd be a stellar coach. I think he'd be a Tom Landry, a Bill Cowher. I think he's got very good football intellect, he's got great motivational skills, he's an excellent communicator and he loves the game."

NOTES: DE Clelin Ferrell (shoulder) was placed on IR. ... DE Takk McKinley, who was claimed off waivers in November, won't play this season for the Raiders. He went on IR with a groin injury as soon as he arrived and hasn't recovered. ... S Jeff Heath (concussion) was activated from IR and DB Daryl Worley was activated from the COVID-19 list. ... RB Jalen Richard was placed on the COVID-19 list. ... T Trent Brown (knee), G Denzelle Good (ankle), DT Maurice Hurst (calf) and DB Lamarcus Joyner (thigh) did not practice.

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Updated December 31, 2020

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