TAMPA, Fla. – Dez Bryant was convinced he'd drawn a flag – right up until he realized he hadn't.
It was a fittingly futile end to a game that ended without a Dallas touchdown. With time winding down, Matt Cassel heaved a prayer downfield toward Dez Bryant, who was being covered one-on-one by Buccaneers safety Brandon McDougald.
"That was what the play was designed for – to give him a chance one-on-one with the safety," Cassel said. "I was able to buy a little bit of time and throw it up. I couldn't see from my vantage point, but the end result of the play obviously was an interception."
McDougald picked off the pass in the end zone, after some downfield jostling with Bryant. The contact was so evident – to Bryant, at least – that he later admitted it affected his concentration in finishing the play.
"I'm too busy worrying about the call – I feel like I still should have tried," he said. "It just threw me off a little bit. They didn't call it."
Bryant faced reporters while still in his uniform and addressed a variety of miscues that plagued his five-catch, 45-yard afternoon. Not surprisingly, the questions started with the game-ending interception that sent the Cowboys to their seventh-straight loss.
"I'm supposed to try my best to fight through situations like that, and I didn't because I was expecting something. That's on me," he said.
There were other missed opportunities, though. Cassel hit Bryant for a first down on a 2nd-and-10 in the third quarter, only to see it bounce uncharacteristically to the turf. Dallas would eventually punt.
But the play that will stick in the memory came in crunch time. Cassel looked toward Bryant on a crucial 3rd-and-1 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys leading, 6-3. Matched up one-on-one with a corner, Bryant had a chance at a catch that would have extended a possession and allowed the Cowboys to milk the clock.
Surprisingly to anyone that's seen Bryant in that situation before, he came down without the ball.
"It was one-on-one to Dez, so I figured I'd give him a chance," Cassel said. "I think the guy made a pretty good play by getting a hand up. He wasn't even looking back, but he got his hand in there somehow and was able to knock the ball loose."
Bryant wasn't as easy on himself as his quarterback, as he repeatedly said he didn't want to make excuses for a lackluster performance.
"Regardless of anything, I'm supposed to have that. I'm supposed to come down with it," he said.
Instead, Dallas punted with 4:13 remaining – a sequence that ultimately led to Jameis Winston's go-ahead rushing touchdown. It left the Cowboys with left than a minute to mount an answer, and it ultimately led to McDougald's interception.[embeddedad0]
For an offense that failed to find the end zone for the second time in three weeks, it was just a sampling of many missed opportunities. But it left a fitting final image for the afternoon: the victorious Buccaneers dog piling in the end zone while a confused Bryant consulted the referees – trying to figure out what had happened.
"I thought they was going to call it, and they didn't," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and make a ton of excuses, because I know the standard that I have for myself."
With the Cowboys' losing streak extending to seven games, there isn't much else he could say.