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Auping: After His Best Game, Bryant May Be Key To Season
That term does not exactly have a universally accepted meaning. Last Wednesday, when Dez Bryant talked to the media after practice and said, “I think I’m back to being Dez,” it was obvious that he meant it in a positive context.
But due to a controversial young career as a Cowboy, “being Dez” simply means being immature to some people. To just as many, it means being a supremely gifted receiver who can control the outcome of an NFL game.
When Bryant stepped out of bounds rather than fight for the first down on a second-and-16 pass in the second quarter with the Cowboys struggling and down 13 points, it caused a collective eye roll/groan from Cowboy fans everywhere. A “here we go again” sort of feeling.
But Bryant’s mental lapse did not fit either of the common definitions for “being Dez.” Call him what you want, but Bryant is a fighter. Avoiding contact is not one his most common character traits. Asking Bryant to get up for a battle is usually not the hard part. Getting him to calm down afterward is often a little bit tougher.
And Bryant showed the fight in him from that point on in the game. He was basically unstoppable for most of the day, particularly in the second half. All in all, Bryant had his best game of the season. He tallied 145 yards off of 12 catches and a touchdown.
Bryant has let Tony Romo down on his route running in the past, but Romo trusted him against the Browns and it paid off. Bryant was targeted a season-high 15 times. This is tied only by his performance in Baltimore. But the difference between Sunday’s game and the Ravens matchup was that Romo trusted Bryant with the deep ball as well as the short pass.
At a certain point, it became clear that Bryant’s defender (typically Buster Skrine) simply could not guard him. He was too athletic, too skilled and too fast to be contained. When Romo looked to go deep with Bryant, sometimes the only option for the Browns was defensive holding. Bryant caused a number of defensive pass interference calls that kept the Cowboys’ offense on the field.
Which does beg the question of whether or not the Cowboys should throw deep to Bryant more often. With such a talented receiver and the quick enforcement of pass interference penalties in today’s game, the feeling is that Bryant will either come down with the ball or earn a first down through penalty while trying.
With a quarterback who threw a lot of early season interceptions it might not seem ideal to seemingly ask him to just throw the ball up for Bryant to go get. But a few of Romo’s interceptions this season came from Bryant messing up short or intermediate routes so there is risk of an interception, no matter what the route.
As pathetic as it may seem, down by 13 at halftime, it felt like a game in which the Cowboys had no business beating the Browns. They had 68 total yards at the half. They only managed 63 yards rushing for the entire game. The defense was solid except for a few miscommunications, two of which happened to result in Cleveland touchdowns.
And worst of all, the offensive line was banged up and ineffective. Linemen were playing out of position, backups were playing the entire game and a franchise tackle left with an ankle injury. As a result, Romo was sacked seven times for 56 yards. It seemed hard to believe that he would ever get enough time in the pocket to lead the Cowboys to a comeback victory.
But as you know, the Cowboys did come back and win. And they did so by relying heavily on Bryant. He became the go-to guy and it was no secret. The offensive line should receive some credit for playing better in the second half, but Romo was able to get the ball out quicker because he often knew exactly who he was throwing it to: Bryant.
The chemistry that Romo and Bryant developed in the second half was the kind of thing usually reserved for Romo and Witten. But with Bryant, the feeling was that he could explode for a touchdown or huge gain on any given play.
You could say that Bryant has been a knucklehead at times. Maybe accuse him of being unfocused or call him a distraction. But last Sunday against the Browns was an example of why the Cowboys are so patient with him. Bryant played like a franchise receiver.
Bryant passed the amateur-viewer test. If someone who knows extremely little about football were to have sat down to watch the Cowboys or Browns, they would have left with the impression that Bryant was one of the most talented and gifted players on the field. They would understand, without the help of the commentators, the impact he had on the game.
The Cowboys still have a lot of things to work on if they expect to make a push for the playoffs, but the production that they got from Bryant puts them on another level as a team in my opinion. If they can fight through the injuries of their offensive line and get more out of their running game (something that might be improved by the return of DeMarco Murray), and still get similar production from Bryant, then the Cowboys might have found the key to their season.
And that’s just letting Dez “be Dez.”