Week 1 in the NFC East featured a significant return and an emotional touchdown for two tight ends who are set to meet this week in our nation’s capital. Let’s look back at the memorable 2019 openers for Jason Witten and Vernon Davis.
Heading into Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season, the highlight of the kickoff weekend was a pair of NFC East battles as the Washington Redskins visited the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Dallas Cowboys were hosting the New York Giants. One game provided an exciting second-half rally while the other was controlled by one team throughout the game.
But as the games wore on, the highlights shifted to two veteran tight ends as Redskins tight end Davis and Cowboys tight end Witten both provided emotional stories on the field. Let’s start with Davis.
Redskins at Eagles
The 35-year-old Davis began his third season with the Redskins on Sunday. Casual viewers saw the game as just another game for Davis and Redskins as play began. Only four minutes into the game, Davis kicked off the scoring with an incredible hurdle over a defender on his way to a 48-yard touchdown, giving Washington a 7-0 lead. It also gave Davis plenty of tears down his face.
As we found out later in the game, Davis’ grandfather had passed away the day before. Davis’ grandfather had become the father-figure in Davis’ life.
“Just an emotional day. I just lost my grandfather. I spent my first 18 years with him and he was just very inspirational in my life, so the last 24 hours has been ups and downs,” Davis said after the game, which the Redskins lost, 32-27.
Davis said a lot of people were asking him if he was going to be able to play and he said he was unsure if he would play. “It came from the simple fact that I was able to come out and help my teammates. All I wanted to do was contribute,” he said. “To be able to come in and play, despite everything that’s been going on, it feels great to be able to help them and be a part.”
Davis caught four passes for 59 yards and that touchdown while playing 55 snaps (82%) against the Eagles. Davis played in place of the injured Jordan Reed, who is still dealing with a concussion. But Brian McNally of NBC Sports Washington notes Reed was limited during Wednesday’s practice but “he participated in more team drills, which is also seen as a positive sign that he will join fellow tight ends Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle on Sunday.” Washington released TE J.P. Holtz Tuesday, another sign Reed is close to playing.
Davis was the number six overall pick out of Maryland by the San Francisco 49ers in 2006. He played almost ten seasons for the 49ers, playing 139 games, catching 441 passes for 5,640 yards and 55 touchdowns. He was traded to the Denver Broncos in 2015, where he played nine games and recorded 20 catches for 201 yards.
In 2016, he signed with the Redskins. He has played in 47 games and has 116 catches for 1,657 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Cowboys vs. Giants
Later in the afternoon, at AT&T Stadium, it was a warm welcome back for one of the greats in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.
After spending one season in the Monday Night Football booth for ESPN, the 37-year-old Witten decided to unretire from football and return to the Cowboys. And he looked as if he never went away.
He may not have dominated the targets or yardage, but he doesn’t need to in this offense. For the record, two Cowboys topped 100 yards against the Giants. Michael Gallup caught seven passes for 158 yards, and Amari Cooper had six catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Witten only caught three passes for 15 yards. But none more significant than his catch early in the second quarter. “Witten, welcome back. Touchdown, Dallas,” Joe Buck announced.
“It was a long time between touchdowns. It felt great,” Witten told Bill Reiter of CBS Sports Radio. “That was a day of a lot of emotion, a lot of joy to be back on the field.”
He also added, “To get back in the end zone, it was really special. And, most importantly, to get a win against the Giants, a division rival.”
Witten is now in his 16th season with the Cowboys. He played all 16 games in every season he has played in except his rookie season, where he played 15. In 240 games, including Sunday’s game, Witten has caught 1,155 passes. That is number four on the all-time NFL list, behind Jerry Rice (1,549), Tony Gonzalez (1,325) and Larry Fitzgerald (1,311). He is also No. 21 on the receiving yards list with 12,463 and has now caught 69 touchdowns passes.
The Cowboys and Redskins meet Sunday at 1:00 eastern on FOX.
Bill Riccette is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering the NFC East. You can follow him on Twitter @Bill_Riccette.