Jason Witten among elite tight ends

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nearly 800 tight ends in NFL history have caught at least one pass. Only two -- Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe -- have more catches than Jason Witten.

"It's totally overwhelming," Witten said as he walked to his suite inside Cowboys Stadium after the 44-7 win against the Buffalo Bills, where friends and family were waiting. "Even though you know it's coming, you want to embrace it."

With a simple 5-yard reception on third-and-3 from the Bills' 28 in the first quarter, Witten was able to pass Ozzie Newsome, the Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer and Baltimore's current general manager, with the 663rd reception of his career.

The game did not stop, although a brief announcement was made. Tony Romo said a quick congratulations, but it was on to the next play, just as Witten wanted it. Four plays later, the Dallas Cowboys had a 14-0 first-quarter lead on their way to their most lopsided win since 2000.

"It's almost surreal when you think Ozzie Newsome," Witten said. "Man, that guy was an unbelievable player, so to think you can pass him and do it at an age where you're not just hanging on, it's special. And you want to get there to be the best."

Witten and Newsome were supposed to speak by phone Sunday night so the Hall of Famer could offer his own words of congratulations.

"Jason is a complete tight end with the ability to block at the point of attack and make plays downfield with his catches," said Newsome in a statement from the Ravens. "He has a way to get open that few tight ends possess. He'll find the spots in zones, he can run away from man coverage and he can catch a ball in heavy traffic. Congratulations to him on reaching another catching milestone."

That the milestone kept a drive alive on a pass from Romo, who has completed 383 passes to Witten since becoming the starter in 2006, and resulted in a first down was somewhat apropos. Nothing flashy. Just effective.

"It just about defines what a tight end is all about," Witten said.

But it does not solely define what Witten means to the Cowboys.

With Miles Austin and Dez Bryant playing through injuries at different parts of the season, Witten has been the constant, as he has been since taking over a starting role in 2004.

Gradually he has moved into becoming the team's conscience, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Coach Jason Garrett talks about Witten's approach to the game as something that should be emulated by everybody. Last week Garrett said Witten is playing himself into Hall of Fame territory.

"Anytime you talk about a seven-time Pro Bowler, who catches 80, 85, 90 passes a year, you're talking about one of the best guys to play," Garrett said. "You've heard me say this before, but as productive as he's been, as talented as he is, what separates him is his approach to the game. He loves it. He's competitive. His attention to detail and his desire to be great individually is really unsurpassed."

Rookie running backs DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner have copied some of Witten's preparation on the field and off of it. Murray, who had his third game of more than 100 yards on the ground Sunday, is taking some of the same supplements and vitamins. He finds himself in the hot and cold tubs during the week to help his body recover.

"I just feel lucky enough to have been in position to have him be my tight end," Romo said.

Witten finished with five catches for 37 yards Sunday, a rather pedestrian game in a season that is shaping up as a norm for him: 87 catches, 1,040 yards.

It would be his sixth season with at least 80 catches, which could put him ahead of Atlanta's Gonzalez for the most 80-catch seasons by a tight end. It would be his third straight 1,000-yard season and fourth 1,000-yard season of his career.

They are numbers reserved for players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Newsome and Sharpe reside and where one day Gonzalez will end up, too.

Witten is 29 and signed a contract extension through 2017 at the start of the season. He is hardly slowing down.

"Being a fan of the game, you always look up to those types of guys that really have given you an opportunity," Witten said. "I've got a long way to go, but it's special."

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.