IRVING, Texas – Dez Bryant's thanks to the officials could be heard all the way back in Texas.
When the referees at Lincoln Financial Field finally gave Bryant a call – a defensive pass interference flag that led to a Cowboys touchdown – in Sunday's game against Philadelphia, Bryant's relieved "Thank you" picked up on the microphones on national television.
It was the first of several contested calls that went Bryant's way on an afternoon where he persistently harassed the Eagles' secondary for eight catches and 110 yards. For his efforts, the Eagles harassed him plenty themselves.
"He's been dealing with that since he was in fourth-grade in Lufkin, Texas," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "This is a guy, who gets a lot of attention. Again, has gotten a lot of attention for a long, long time in his life. He has to get used to that, and he has to understand how to play through that -- whether it's a coverage that rolls to him or whether it's guys being physical with him during the play."
Bryant was reluctant to use the word "lobbying" to describe his exasperation with the officials. But he did admit he was happy to see a call goes his way -- and in the end zone, no less.
"I ain't going to lie – I don't want to be a pain for the refs," he said. "But damn, some things just obvious. If that ref – if he didn't – You know what? I'm just happy he called it."
The flag led to a Phillip Tanner touchdown, and ultimately, a bit of relief after playing three and a half quarters marked mainly by futility. The Cowboys went 5-of-16 on third down and turned the ball over twice. They also drew 12 penalties, whereas the Eagles' flag against Bryant was one of just five.
"I don't want to get in their ear, but if it's obvious, it's obvious. The guy was looking at me like I wasn't even there, and I was like 'I know you see me talking to you, man. He's holding me,'" Bryant said. "I got kind of frustrated on some of the calls, but I let it go and stayed focused."
He certainly looked focused, as four of his eight catches went for 15 or more yards. But Bryant didn't need to admit his frustration for that to be evident.
The offensive struggles were enough to elicit a fiery response from the wideout. But on a day when the offense was slow to find any kind of groove, he said he was just doing his part to keep his teammates engaged.
"When y'all see me be all hyped up, I feel like I have to do that because I feel like it's just something that we need, and I love it," he said. "That's just me – there's no pretending, no acting, no hard feelings toward anybody. It's just I want to keep the guys motivated."
It's not the first time this season Bryant has avoided the pitfalls of added attention. He has been held to fewer than 50 yards in three of seven games this season, and yet he has still been able to manage 569 yards and six touchdowns on the season.
Just like Sunday, when he went to halftime with just two catches for 34 yards, Bryant said the trick is to stay patient.
"It's just a mental thing, you know, you just have to stay focused, because you know it's coming," he said.
It's a fitting week to look at that focus – Bryant's ability to handle the attention, in addition to his actual production. His counterpart in this weekend's matchup against the Lions, Calvin Johnson, might be the best in the league at fighting off not just double-teams, but controversy as well.
[embedded_ad] Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones pegged Johson – affectionately known league-wide as "Megatron" – as the league's best wide receiver right now.
"I think that Johnson at Detroit has got to be the best receiver or best end target, if you want to put it like that, the best guy to go to right now in the league," Jones said on KRLD-FM. "Dez can aspire to be that and has a chance to be that."
That's the idea. Bryant has done a marvelous job staying out of the news for non-football-related reasons after a turbulent start to his career. And if you haven't seen it flying around this week already, there's a fantastic stat giving credence to Bryant's potential to match Megatron's production.
Through 50 career games, Bryant boasts 25 more catches, 78 more yards and seven more scores than Johnson had at the same milestone. It's quite an endorsement of Bryant's abilities. The key is, according to Garrett: fight off the frustration, and maintain it.
"You don't want to make that the focus of your day," Garrett said. "You want to release, run my routes, catch the ball, get back to the huddle. Keep doing that over and over again."