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Dallas TE Witten close to passing Irvin in catches

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Dallas TE Witten close to passing Irvin in catches

IRVING, Texas (AP) Jason Witten still remembers vividly his first NFL catch, though at the time the Dallas Cowboys tight end didn't think enough about it to even keep the ball.

It was a 13-yard pass from Quincy Carter in the fourth quarter of a loss against Atlanta, the only catch of his NFL debut in the 2003 season opener.

``It's one of those deals, you catch it, you get up. It's just football, this is what we do,'' Witten recalled Wednesday. ``It seems like it was yesterday.''

When the Cowboys play at Atlanta on Sunday night, Witten might catch a ball really worth keeping.

With four more receptions, Witten will surpass Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin's career mark of 750 that stands as the Cowboys' franchise record.

``Their exterior might be different but they're all about the same thing,'' said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who was Irvin's teammate. ``Each of those guys is as good a teammate as I've been around, as passionate about this game as I've been around, works as hard at this game as anybody I've ever been around. Really, really well liked.

``Michael is obviously flamboyant. Jason is not quite as flamboyant. But the passion in both of those guys is there.''

Witten broke his own single-game franchise record by catching 18 passes in a loss to the New York Giants last Sunday. The seven-time Pro Bowler has 43 receptions over the last four games after a slow start while he recovered from a lacerated spleen.

Now he is close to passing Irvin's career mark established over 12 seasons (1988-99).

``He was one of the greatest,'' Witten said. ``So just to be mentioned with Michael Irvin is special, and hopefully we'll have a good discussion after a big win about it, once it happens. But really, until then, my focus is trying to help this team win and where we're at in the season.''

The Cowboys (3-4), after missing a chance to get within a half-game of the Giants (6-2) for the NFC East lead, now play the NFL's only undefeated team.

That also means Witten has a chance to break Irvin's record with Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez on the other side of the field.

Witten ranks third on the tight end list with his 747 catches, trailing Gonzalez (1,195) and retired Shannon Sharpe (815). Witten is also third among tight ends with 8,396 yards receiving.

``I have all of the respect for him. He plays the position the way it's supposed to be played,'' Gonzalez said of Witten during a conference call with Dallas media. ``He's definitely, without a doubt, a dual tight end. That means he blocks and catches, and obviously where the state of the tight end is in the NFL right now. I mean a lot of these guys are just catching passes so I love seeing a guy like him blocking and catching the ball and doing both things very, very well.''

Gonzalez and Witten have become friends over the years while playing in Pro Bowl games and attending Super Bowls. For all of their catches and records, they have only one playoff victory among them - Gonzalez is 0-5 and Witten 1-4 with an NFC wild-card victory three seasons ago.

This is the 16th NFL season for Gonzalez, who plans on retiring after this one. He said he is ``95 percent sure'' of that even though he has no doubt he could play at a pretty high level for a couple of years more.

``He's the greatest to ever play the tight end position,'' Witten said. ``It's amazing, he's still going at the level that he's doing it. You talk about durability and consistency, he kind of defines that, especially at this position.

``I'm a big fan, and it's great to see him still at a high level the way he plays and how he carries himself both on and off the field.''

Witten has played in 150 NFL games. The only game he missed was because of a broken jaw as a rookie in Bill Parcells' first season as Cowboys coach.

It was Parcells who used to say then about Witten, ``don't put him in Canton yet.''

But there could be a future spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for Witten, who never even considered being the Cowboys' career receptions leader when he first arrived as a third-round draft pick out of Tennessee.

``I was just trying to survive that first training camp,'' Witten said. ``You're always in search of the perfect play and the perfect game, so it's just this process you're always trying to be better and better and better. You don't really get to that point that you can enjoy it, because you're always looking for more, and expectations get higher.

``If it happens, it will be special.''

Notes: WR Dez Bryant (hip) and RB DeMarco Murray (sprained foot) didn't practice Wednesday. Neither did LB Dan Connor (neck), who was hurt against the Giants. ... Garrett said his parents, who ``live right across the street from the ocean'' in Monmouth Beach, N.J., are OK after Hurricane Sandy. He said they aren't back in their house, but ``actually did OK relative to some people.''

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

In this week's mailbag podcast, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir answer several questions about the Caps' prospects and Hershey.

How does the future look on the farm? Plus, they talk about potential weaknesses, their biggest surprises and more!

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: The best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 16, 10 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the quarterbacks are up. They are roughly ranked by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, although I did some juggling based on offseason moves and other factors. 

Aaron Rodgers, Packers—An injury-plagued 2017 season actually pushed Rodgers near the middle of the pack in DVOA. But we know better than that. We have every expectation that he will be back throwing for around 4,000 yards, 35 touchdowns, and a half-dozen or so miracle comebacks. The Redskins had better hope they have a big lead late in their Week 3 game. 

Drew Brees, Saints—The last time Brees failed to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season we were in the first year of the second term of George W. Bush and Joe Gibbs was in the second year of his comeback stint with the Redskins. Brees gives the Saints a chance in every game and nearly every situation (as the Redskins found out in New Orleans last season. 

Matt Ryan, Falcons—The first $30 million man in NFL history is everything you want in a quarterback. He’s productive, with at least 4,000 passing yards every season since 2011. Ryan also is durable; he hasn’t missed a game this decade. The only thing he is missing is a ring but he didn’t call passes when the Falcons were set up for a clinching field goal and he wasn’t on the field when Tom Brady shredded the Falcons defense in the fourth quarter. 

Carson Wentz, Eagles—The Redskins experienced their share of frustration in trying to deal with Wentz last year. They weren’t the only ones as Wentz was a prime MVP candidate before he missed the last three games and the playoffs with a torn ACL. I am not buying into the notion that there will be any quarterback controversy in Philly. When Wentz is healthy, Nick Foles will step aside. 

Deshaun Watson, Texans—Perhaps the hype train was getting a little bit out of hand for the rookie last year. After all, the Texans were 3-3 in his six starts and he was on pace to throw 21 interceptions. Still, he should be a good one. His mobility is a huge asset and we have seen the problems that the Redskins have had dealing with quarterbacks who can scramble in the pocket and take off and run. 

Best of the rest: Cam Newton, Panthers; Jameis Winston, Bucs; Marcus Mariota, Titans; Dak Prescott, Cowboys; Andrew Luck, Colts (if healthy)

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller, who outscored the entire Baltimore Colts team in the 1991 season, was born on this date in 1966.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 10
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 24
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 47

The Redskins last played a game 197 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 55 days. 

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