TAMPA, Fla. – Surrounded by reporters at his postgame locker, there was no doubt Dez Bryant would be asked about his eventful lead-up to Sunday's game against the Buccaneers.
Bryant didn't bother denying it – he said it was a tough week. His loud, prolonged locker room confrontation with reporters on Thursday was the story of the week in the NFL. To cap that off, the Dallas offense struggled mightily in a 10-6 loss to Tampa Bay.
However trying it might have been, though, Bryant said it played no part whatsoever in the on-filed product at Raymond James Stadium.
"To be really honest about that situation, yeah. But I'm not going to say that that had anything to do with my performance," he said. "Like I said, we were just in a lot of unfortunate situations today."
That was a unifying theme for the Cowboys in the aftermath of their seventh-straight loss. There seems to be no end to the off-field storylines surrounding this team, but there has been a steady refusal to allow that to affect the locker room.
Given his role in Thursday's locker room episode, Bryant was the first to be asked about team chemistry. He wouldn't be the last, and he wouldn't be alone in his focus.
"I think it's more of a problem whenever a lot of you guys make it an issue," he said. "Because everybody in the locker room knows what we do, we know how we roll. It's never what y'all think."
Bryant added: "Ask any of the other guys and you'll probably get the same answer."
Whether that was a personal challenge or not, the assembled media certainly complied – and Bryant was proven correct. As an 11-year veteran, Cassel was asked if the Cowboys had the familiar makings of a distracted team.
"I don't believe so," he said. "Like I said, I don't think anything that's been going on within the building or outside the building has distracted this team from doing what they need to do on Sundays. I just think the end result needs to be – we've got to make more plays."
The storylines persist, though – and not even necessarily about things that have happened in the past. The Dallas sideline caught some attention in the first half on Sunday when defensive ends Greg Hardy and DeMarcus Lawrence got into an argument after a defensive series.
For however dramatic it might have looked on the outside, it was swiftly downplayed by those within the huddle.
"That's just brotherly camaraderie – that's all. That's all it is," said Jeremy Mincey. "There wasn't no problem. D-Law went out and played his behind off and did a really good job, so it wasn't no problem – no issue."
Mincey was asked similar questions about off-field distractions, and he echoed the sentiments of his teammates.
"Ironically, it's not a problem in the locker room," he said. "Guys are focused, guys are doing everything the right way – we're just falling short of victory. We've just got to figure out a way to win."
Of course, it can't be all roses, either. After all, the Cowboys are leaving Tampa with their seventh-straight loss – five of which have come by seven points or fewer. If there's frustration within the Dallas locker room, it probably stems from being unable to finish a game.
"Obviously, to a man here, we're all disappointed. We keep saying we're going to get this thing turned around, and we truly believe it," Cassel said. "Unfortunately, we keep getting in these tight games where we're not able to finish."
Disappointment and discontent seem like different things, however. As Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has frequently pointed out, his team has clawed to the bitter end through the duration of the losing streak.
Maybe that's what makes it easy to take Bryant at his word when he downplays lingering questions about team chemistry. The Cowboys might be struggling, but they certainly appear to be doing so as a team.
"It's either going to make us or break us, and I think we're going to continue to keep fighting," Bryant said. "We're going to stay strong, we're going to ride it out together. It's what we have to do. We have no choice. We have to stick together."