IRVING, Texas – Stephen Jones said Monday the Cowboys continue to be optimistic Dez Bryant will have a "real shot" to return after the bye week for the Oct. 25 division rematch with the New York Giants.
"There's been no setbacks," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan when asked about Bryant's recovery from Sept. 14 foot surgery.
A Dez-less offense for perhaps only one more game? That's great news, because this much has become more apparent with each passing week, specifically after two straight losses:
The 2-2 Cowboys miss their All-Pro star wide receiver more than ever.
For a couple reasons.
First, the obvious. A healthy Bryant would offer instant relief for an offense fighting claustrophobia due to opposing defenses crowding the box and daring downfield throws from fill-in starting quarterback Brandon Weeden.
They need their $70 million man, the guy with the NFL's fourth-most catches of 20-plus yards last season (22) and 80 for his career, backing them off. Creating some running room for the backs. Unclogging the middle of the field again.
It was a problem for the first two games without Bryant and quarterback Tony Romo presenting that collective threat. Let's just say it's a larger challenge without Lance Dunbar, the Cowboys' second-leading receiver and their most explosive pass-catcher not named Dez through the first four games.
On the 91-yard, game-tying drive near the end of regulation, Weeden completed passes of 24, 28, 19, 17 and 17 yards, including Terrance Williams' gorgeous diving touchdown grab. That's vertical progress for the offense, though perhaps partly due to the Saints playing more conservative coverage late with a seven-point lead.
Can it continue?
We'll see. Williams provides that element more than any other healthy receiver. Speedy reserve Brice Butler hurt his hamstring in the third quarter, leaving the offense with three wideouts and their trio of tight ends, and his availability this week is uncertain.
Bryant, though, presents a totally different dynamic when healthy. There's a reason the Cowboys made such a substantial financial commitment to him in mid-July. He's one of five receivers in the league who will either dominate a game or draw so much defensive attention that he feeds single coverage to the rest of his offensive teammates.
"Dez is one of those players who, when you break the huddle, the defense is looking for where No. 88 goes," Jason Garrett said. "They always give him a lot of attention, and when you have a guy like that, it does reduce the burden on other people."
Without him again this week, the Cowboys may have little choice but to get aggressive against the defending champion Patriots averaging 39.7 points with a couple guys named Tom and Gronk.
After that? According to Jones, maybe Bryant's back as soon as the late-October trip to the Meadowlands.
They need his offense.
Reason No. 2: They also need his emotion.
The Superdome's visitors locker room Sunday night was simply crestfallen, physically and emotionally spent from the mounting injuries and the game's see-saw ending: the 91-yard touchdown drive, followed by the Saints' dramatic field goal miss that preserved overtime, concluding with Drew Brees' 80-yard winning touchdown pass to C.J. Spiller.
The Cowboys continue to fight, no doubt, despite an injury list that includes Bryant, Romo, Randy Gregory, Sean Lee and others.
"The players that are out here, the guys that we're asking to step up, they shouldn't be as good as the ones they're replacing but they're playing hard and competing," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "And I'm proud of that. Really proud of that."
The "Next Man Up" message is honorable. Eventually, it becomes harder to reinforce when you're running out of batters on deck.
Bryant, a winner and a fierce competitor, will not allow a locker room letdown no matter how thin the roster gets. He's the living breathing embodiment of Jason Garrett's "passion, emotion, enthusiasm" credo.
The sooner he's 100 percent and ready to go, the better – for the sake of the Cowboys' offense and their spirit.