IRVING, Texas – The best day of Dez Bryant's career ended in disappointment.
Bryant served as Tony Romo's security blanket throughout the game Sunday afternoon, but No. 88 dropped the ball when the Cowboys needed him to come up with another play. That failed two-point conversion didn’t cost the Cowboys the game, but they would have avoided the clock-management crisis if Bryant caught the ball.
But that doesn’t diminish the progress Bryant displayed against the Ravens, catching a career-high 13 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Nitpick the lack of yards after catch if you wish – or credit the Ravens secondary for solid tackling – but Bryant was one of the primary reasons the Cowboys were in the game at the end.
“We’ll learn from that particular play, but he has a tremendous competitive spirit,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Anybody who watches football and knows anything about it – or even if you don’t know anything about it – and you watch that guy play, you see his passion for the game and his competitive spirit.
“Keep going, keep learning. … He’s growing and growing and getting better every week.”
Our weekly throw-by-throw look at Bryant’s performance:
14-yard completion: Lined up wide right on third-and-4 from the Dallas 42 and ran a skinny post. Beat a jam by knocking cornerback Jimmy Smith off balance. Tackled by Smith and safety Ed Reed immediately after the catch.
18-yard gain: Lined up wide right on first-and-10 from the 20 and ran a deep comeback route. Got an inside release to beat press coverage by cornerback Lardarius Webb, who suffered a torn ACL when his knee buckled after running into Bryant at the top of the route. Bryant had to tap his feet inbounds to catch the pass. Had his momentum not carried him to the sideline, Bryant would have had a lot of room to run with Webb down and only a safety playing the middle of the field between him and the end zone.
7-yard loss: Lined up outside in a twins left formation on third-and-9 from the Baltimore 17 and ran a quick screen. Miles Austin missed his block to allow Smith to hit Bryant before he could make a move. Bryant lost yardage after bouncing off the initial hit.
6-yard gain: Lined up wide left on second-and-8 from the Baltimore 45 and ran a stop route against press coverage by cornerback Cary Williams. Tackled by Williams immediately after the catch.
4-yard gain: Lined up wide left on third-and-2 from the Baltimore 39 and ran a quick in cut with Williams playing off coverage. Tackled by Williams immediately after the catch for the first down.
5-yard gain: Lined up wide right on first-and-15 from the Baltimore 37 and ran a stop route against off coverage by Smith. Made Smith miss, but Reed made the tackle before Bryant could gain any additional yardage.
13-yard gain: Lined up wide left on third-and-11 from the Baltimore 48 and ran a slant against off coverage by Williams. Dragged Williams six yards to move the chains.
7-yard TD: Lined up wide left on first-and-goal and ran a back-shoulder fade against off coverage by Williams. Laid out to make a beautiful catch of a ball thrown intentionally low and behind him for Bryant’s first touchdown of the season.
5-yard gain: Lined up wide right on second-and-goal from the Baltimore 14 and ran a slant against press coverage by Smith. Tackled immediately after the catch.
8-yard gain: Lined up wide right on first-and-20 from the Dallas 25 and ran a quick in cut against off coverage by Cory Graham. After gaining a few yards after the catch, Bryant spun off a hit by Reed and Graham, but linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and safety James Ihedigbo tackled him before he could break free.
Incompletion: Lined up wide right on third-and-10 from the Dallas 46 and ran a comeback against press coverage by Smith. Could not make a diving catch of a pass thrown low and to the sideline.
17-yard gain: Lined up wide right on third-and-27 from the Baltimore 49 and ran a quick in cut against soft zone defense. Juked cornerback Chykie Brown and broke tackles by Reed and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to gain 12 extra yards before being knocked out of bounds by safety Bernard Pollard with 58 seconds remaining.
Incompletion: Lined up wide right on second-and-1 from the Baltimore 7 and ran a fade against press coverage by Brown. Couldn’t make a leaping catch and landed out of bounds anyway.
4-yard TD: Lined up wide left, off the line of scrimmage, and ran a fade against press coverage by Williams. Made a leaping catch on a back-shoulder pass after pushing off – he prefers the term creating space – at the goal line.
Failed 2-point conversion: Lined up in same spot as the touchdown on the previous snap and ran the same route against the same coverage by Williams. Bryant was not able to create much space, so Romo threw the ball low and behind him, similar to the pass on Bryant’s first touchdown. Bryant let the ball get into his chest instead of catching it with his hands. He wanted pass interference on the play and mentioned after the game that he thought he should have gotten the benefit of the whistle. However, after watching the film, Bryant realized that he simply dropped the ball. “Looking back on it, that’s a play I should make,” he said Monday.
1-yard gain: Lined up wide left on first-and-10 from the Baltimore 34 with 26 seconds remaining and ran a quick in cut against off coverage by Williams. Tackled immediately after the catch, beginning a clock-management crisis for the Cowboys.