Are you ready for some Jason Witten?
This Sunday, the Cowboys tight end will play in his 32nd game against the Giants while embarking on his 16th season in 17 years. No player has caught more passes or gained more yards receiving against the Giants than Witten, so they weren’t exactly sad to see their longtime NFC East foe retire two springs ago to become the lead analyst for “Monday Night Football” on ESPN.
However, as Witten has said, there is no perfect roadmap for life after football. His long, winding journey has brought him down from the broadcast booth and back to the football field. Even opponents acknowledged it was the right destination.
“I like Jason,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said Wednesday, four days before the season opener. “We have a good relationship. He’s where he belongs. He’s a Cowboy.”
Universally liked and respected though he may be, the Giants still have to stop the 37-year-old. Witten has 161 catches for 1,649 and 15 touchdowns in 31 games against Big Blue, including their 2007 Divisional Round matchup. In their long series history, Witten once caught 18 passes in a 2012 meeting (the Giants still managed to win), tied for the third-most in a single game in NFL history.
Safety Jabrill Peppers, who will likely see plenty of No. 82 on Sunday, was asked today if he has heard that Witten can be a “Giant killer.”
“No, I haven’t heard that,” Peppers responded.
The third-year pro is not naïve, though. Sunday will be his first game in a Giants uniform, but it’s not his first time going up against an elite player – or preparing for one.
“[I am] watching the film, seeing what routes he likes against certain coverages out of certain personnel, where he’s at on the field, and what he does from there,” Peppers said. “Really, just extensive film study. Taking the challenge head on and going out there and competing at a very high level.”
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound safety said the biggest challenge is the size of the 6-foot-6, 263-pound tight end.
“He uses his body very well against smaller safeties,” Peppers said. “I think he’s faster than a lot of people give him credit for. … He’s established at the game. He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to get open, he’s been there forever. They have a guy who can get him the ball, and they have guys around him who can stretch the defense out and let him sit in those soft coverages. We are definitely going to take the challenge.”
Sunday will be Witten’s first meaningful game since Dec. 31, 2017. He played in two preseason games this year and caught one pass for 10 yards. It converted a third down, and the Cowboys scored a touchdown on the next play to cap a 97-yard drive.
“It just felt like old times again,” Witten told Cowboys reporters after the game. “Even though you’ve got a little bit of jitters and you’re anxious, you want to go prove it. When you get back out there, it’s the same things that allow you to be successful. I’ve said it a long time, the secret is in the dirt, and it really is. The things that allow you to be successful are those fundamentals, techniques, allowing your brain to process information quickly and you can trust that.”
Witten added: “No place I’d rather be than where I’m at right now and doing what I love. I’ve got a hell of a challenge on my hands and feel like I can help this football team win some games in some way, but I’m better because of [the broadcast] experience. There’s no question about it.”
The Giants just don’t want to give him any more anecdotes for the next time he is in the booth.