LANDOVER, Md. -The second half of the season had belonged to Dez Bryant. The young receiver wasn't just an occasional playmaker, but a dominant weapon within the Cowboys' offense.
As Bryant helped the offense mount yet another fourth quarter comeback attempt Sunday against the Redskins, the Cowboys lost Bryant to a back injury before the receiver could extend his seven-game touchdown streak. That turned out to be the last time he saw the field in 2012.
Bryant injured his back in the middle of a drive, and it was difficult to identify exactly what happened to cause the injury, but after looking to the sideline clutching his back, Bryant never returned. In fact, he had to be helped off the field.
The Cowboys struggled to consistently move the ball through the air against the Washington Redskins, but Bryant was still able to pick his spots and managed to catch four passes for 71 yards prior to his injury.
What appeared to be a minor injury at first was clearly much worse as Bryant, in obvious pain, needed to be carried to the locker room. He was unavailable to talk to the media following the game and the extent of the injury is unknown, but Bryant still needed assistance from trainers and teammates after the game in the locker room and on the way into the team charter plane.
"(It was his) back," said Jason Garrett. "He hurt his back. He really couldn't even walk."
In the seven games leading up the season finale, Bryant was arguably the hottest receiver in the NFL. He recorded at least one touchdown in all seven of those games and totaled 10 touchdowns in that span.
Just one week earlier, Bryant the best performance of his career against the New Orleans Saints when he caught nine passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
And don't forget that he broke his index finger less than a month ago and almost needed immediate season-ending surgery.
But Bryant and the Cowboys opted to avoid surgery. He claimed that the Cowboys were trying to do something special and he wanted to be a part of it. Somehow Bryant played through the pain and was as productive as ever.
The young man who was at one point thought by many to be a distraction became a leader who inspired even his veteran teammates with his toughness and dedication. He wanted to carry the Cowboys to the playoffs and he looked to be doing just that.
Unfortunately, things did not turn out the way Bryant and his teammates had hoped. But it wasn't because of a lack of effort on Bryant's part.
The season started on a difficult note for Bryant, from off-the-field controversies to the same inconsistencies to injuries, but Bryant battled through it all to become an elite receiver.
He finished the season just short of 1,400 yards with 12 touchdowns, but more than anything else, he proved to his teammates and fans that he's dedicated to the team and will fight until he has literally can't stand up straight.