Witten eyes record after spleen injury, slow start


Witten eyes record after spleen injury, slow start

IRVING, Texas (AP) Jason Witten had nearly as many drops as catches through three games this season, back when his side still hurt just about every time he moved because of a lacerated spleen.

The Dallas Cowboys tight end dismissed any suggestion that the injury had anything to do with an uncharacteristic case of stone hands. The seven-time Pro Bowler didn't really even want to say how long it took to feel normal again once he decided to play in the season opener just 23 days after getting hurt in a preseason game.

Coach Jason Garrett puts it somewhere around a month into the season, which is about the time Witten started a career-best stretch so prolific that he has two games to get the six catches needed to break Tony Gonzalez's tight end record of 102 in a season. Witten could get it Sunday at home against New Orleans (6-8).

``You know, we talked about him saying, `I'm playing in that Giant game,' after he had the lacerated spleen, and I'm thinking to myself, `This guy's crazy,''' Garrett said. ``He wasn't quite himself for probably three or four weeks after that. I think we all saw that. And then for him to kind of, `OK, I'm feeling better now' and get back to what he's been doing, I think he's had a remarkable year.''

Witten turned 30 in May, and once he made it through that opener against New York, it was easy to forget about the injury as he stumbled through two more games and reached Week 4 with five drops, four penalties and eight catches. Too old already? Hall of Fame career nearing an end?

Hardly. In the past 11 games, he has 89 catches for 847 yards and two touchdowns, including his first scoring hookup with Tony Romo in last weekend's 27-24 overtime win against Pittsburgh that put the Cowboys (8-6) in control of their playoff fate with two games left.

Witten reset his franchise record with 18 catches in a loss to the Giants in October, and a week later broke Michael Irvin's career Cowboys record of 750 receptions. With 793 catches, Witten is likely this year to join Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe as the only tight ends with 800, and he's third behind those two with 8,832 yards. Gonzalez set the single-season mark for catches in 2004.

``I have so much respect for the game and this position,'' Witten said. ``To be able to be even thinking about passing that kind of record that's stood the course for almost 10 years by the greatest tight end that ever played, to break that, no question it's special. I think you're more proud of the body of work over the course of 10 years than you are just one season.''

Witten was part of Bill Parcells' first Cowboys draft class in 2003. He played in 15 games, with seven starts, as a rookie, and missed the only game of his career with a broken jaw. Barring injury, he's about to complete his sixth straight season of starting every game.

That streak was in serious jeopardy after he took a hard blind-side hit on a broken play in a preseason game at Oakland. It was easy to rule him out for the opener after the diagnosis because the Cowboys started the season three days earlier than everyone else and had 10 days to get ready for Week 2.

Witten thought otherwise, even with his old-school former coach whispering in his ear about taking it easy during a phone call.

``He was like my dad: `Take care of yourself now. Be smart,''' said Witten, a bit bemused. ``Remember, this guy, 10 years ago when I had the broken jaw, it didn't seem like that was the same response.''

The Cowboys were just happy to have him on the field against the Giants, so some balky play and two catches for 10 yards didn't faze anyone. He four catches against the Seahawks, but had the same number of drops, then two catches again, this time for just 8 yards, against Tampa Bay.

Witten finally broke loose with 13 catches for 112 yards and a garbage-time touchdown from Kyle Orton in a blowout loss to the Bears.

``I've never thought, `Well, I'm about to taper off here, let's see if I can hang on,''' Witten said. ``It's always been it gets higher every year. And going into this year, that's what it was.''

With or without a lacerated spleen.


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Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired


Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired

On the newest banner that hangs from the rafters at Capital One Arena, a small microphone - embroidered with a white 33 - is subtly stitched into the bottom left corner. 

You'd barely notice it was there; Phil Chenier certainly didn't.

Chenier, who had his #45 jersey retired tonight during halftime of tonight's Wizards-Nuggets game, didn't even notice the mic, added to signify his three decades as a broadcaster with the team.

"I had no idea there was even a mic on it," Chenier said, laughing. "I'll have to go back out and look at it some more."

Despite the Wizards' 108-100 loss, the night was first and foremost a celebration of Chenier - the 5th player in franchise history to have his number rasied in the rafters. He joins Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld as the only players to achieve the honor so far.

"To be up there with the other 4 names means a lot – people I had the fortune of playing with," he added. "I remember my first day of practice and I had just watched this team play in the finals and now I’m plopped down with Wes Unfeld and Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. It seemed like they accepted me from the get go."

Many from that 1978 Championship team were in attendance on Friday night, watching as one of their teammates cemented his professional legacy. For Chenier, that acceptance as an All-Time Bullets great is at the core of why he played the game.

"You know, when you play this game, you play for acceptance," he said. "You want to be the best, you want to be accepted. Having players and childhood friends – and of course, your family – here, you’re surrounded by so many people that meant a lot to you both before and now. It’s a really humbling feeling.”

It was hard to find someone in DC without something good to say about Chenier on Friday night. Even in the basement of Capital One Center, after the Wizards' fifth loss in seven games, head coach Scott Brooks took a moment out of his press conference to praise Chenier. 

"[Chenier] is a great ambassador and we all love him," Brooks said. "It's well deserved. It's going to be pretty cool seeing his jersey every time we step into this building."

Fans left the arena with a commemorative Phil Chenier cut out. Phil Chenier left the arena with his number retired. The experience was, according to the man himself, everything he thought it'd be. 

"You don’t know what the emotions are going to be..." he told media members after the ceremony."...Obviously it’s something I thought about, but it really was exciting to see the 45 up there and my name."

Then Chenier cracked a smile.

"I’m glad it’s over with."

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall returning from his months-long absence, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy, or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed.

Both the Pacers and Cavaliers, two teams just ahead of them in the playoff race, won on Friday.

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.

Turnovers were one issue with the Wizards' defense. So was defending the perimeter, as the Nuggets shot 17-for-34 (50%) from long range. It is worth noting the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Gary Harris, a guy who is dangerous from long range.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

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