MINNEAPOLIS – Given that he plays the same position and wears the same number, Dez Bryant will never stray far from the looming legacy of Michael Irvin.
But with NFL Network covering Thursday's 17-15 win against Minnesota, the gap was even closer. Irvin was right there on the sideline to congratulate him when Bryant scored his 65th career receiving touchdown – tying Irvin's own record for second-best in franchise history.
"He just talked about the record, and he talked about our previous conversations in the offseason – talking about the squad and stuff like that," Bryant said.
Bryant and Irvin have had a close bond throughout the younger receiver's entire NFL career. For all the excitement that surrounded the decision to draft Bryant – and give him No. 88 – it was special to see him match the mark of one of the franchise's greatest players.
However special it might be, though, Bryant insisted it doesn't compare to what the Cowboys have accomplished through 12 weeks this season – and what still lies in front of them.
"He was excited about the touchdown record," Bryant said of Irvin. "But like I told him, that's not what's important right now. Our goal is way much more bigger than that."
The Cowboys could possibly clinch a playoff berth if the breaks fall their way this weekend. But regardless of that, they've put themselves in position to clinch the NFC East with a win against New York next week. That's not lost on Bryant, who saw his team piece together a hard-fought, if not necessarily pretty, road win against the Vikings.
"We're a football team, and that's the most beautiful thing that we got," he said. "We stick with one another throughout the good and the bad, and y'all witnessed that tonight. Those are the type of things that we care about, is putting out victories like this."
Bryant provided most of the few bright spots for a passing game that fought hard against the one of the NFL's best secondaries. His 56-yard gain on a long bomb against favorable coverage set up the Cowboys' only touchdown of the first half.
The record-tying touchdown, which put the Cowboys ahead for good, saw him catch a quick throw to the flat and bully past cornerback Xavier Rhodes to reach the pylon.
"They play a lot of off coverage, and we felt like, if they wanted to play off – let us have that, and we'll take it and do something with it," he said.
It's been a pretty eventful month since Bryant returned from the hairline fracture that sidelined him earlier this season. In six games since he returned to the lineup, he has tallied 26 catches for 484 yards and five touchdowns.
He fought off widespread criticism after an off day against Cleveland, and he fought through the passing of his father one day before he faced the Steelers. And of course he avoided a fight when he and Josh Norman engaged in a smack talking session following the Cowboys' Thanksgiving win against Washington.
As of Thursday night, add a major touchdown milestone to the ledger. But, as Bryant repeated multiple times on Thursday night, the ledger he cares about involves wins and losses. He also pointed out that the difficulty will only increase as the grind of December begins.
"It's a pretty cool situation, but there's more ball left," he said. "We've got to stay grinding, because this success thing is kind of tricky. You can't get too high – that's the beginning of falling off."
That's an understandable sentiment. There's still a month left in the season, not to mention the increasing likelihood of a playoff appearance – which is where this team will be judged.
But between Bryant's actions on the field and his words off of it, it's hard to imagine too much of a drop off any time soon.