EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Coaches and teammates kept coming up to Dez Bryant on the MetLife Stadium sideline and telling him to keep his head up, to hang in there, to not allow the mistakes he had already made prevent him from making critical plays.
They emphasized to Bryant, who described himself as “heartbroken” after a fumble that lost 25 yards and killed a potential scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, just how much his team needed him.
It was a dreadful Sunday afternoon for Bryant until the Dallas Cowboys most needed him. Then he came through in the clutch, coming up with a couple of critical third-down conversions on the Cowboys’ game-winning drive in the final minutes of their 24-21 victory against the New York Giants.
“I had to bring it. I had to bring it,” said Bryant, who felt he owed it to his teammates to make up for his fumble and a interception in the first quarter that bounced off Bryant’s chest before it landed in the hands of Giants safety Antrel Rolle. “Everything that went on in the first three quarters of the game, I had to let that go and go out there and be Dez.”
The Dez clutch delivery: Three catches for 32 yards, accounting for half of the distance of the Cowboys' game-winning drive.
Bryant’s 19-yard catch on third-and-7 from the Dallas 23, which occurred about a minute after the Giants tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion, was one of the biggest plays of the game. He lined up as a slot receiver, a wrinkle the Cowboys worked on in the bye week to make it more difficult to double-team him, and ran a wheel route, making a good adjustment to catch a ball thrown intentionally behind him.
A few players later, Bryant made another third-down catch to keep the drive alive, lining up in the slot again and making a contested grab on a slant.
Bryant’s passion has been a subject of much discussion, particularly since his emotional sideline outbursts in a loss last month in Detroit. His performance on the final drive provided proof that he’s developing the kind of poise required to be a dependable star for the Cowboys.
“Dez is an emotional guy and somehow, some way we got him focused back on what the task at hand was,” said coach Jason Garrett, who firmly believes that Bryant also caught a pass for what would have been a 22-yard gain to the New York 6 that was ruled incomplete and not reviewed. “The best big-time players that I’ve been around play big in the big-time moment.”
Added tight end Jason Witten: “We all have those games where it just seems like it’s not going your way sometimes, but he made some huge catches. That final drive, him and [quarterback Tony Romo] just kind of put the team on their back. Obviously, we wouldn’t have had a chance to win that game without him. It just shows what type of player he’s become, not allowing the previous series or the last half affect what he can do on that last drive.”
For all of his phenomenal physical attributes, one of the things that the Cowboys love most about Bryant is his willingness to listen.
Bryant will listen when veterans such as Witten and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher approach him on the sideline and stress the importance of focusing on the next play, reinforcing the message given to him by Garrett and receivers coach Derek Dooley.
And Bryant hangs on every word from Romo. That’s why it meant so much to hear Romo tell him after the fumble that the quarterback still had unwavering confidence in Bryant -- and then follow through on it by targeting him four times in the final drive, including the first two third downs.
“You’ve got to have that mental approach to come back,” Romo said. “It’s just like a quarterback who throws an interception or a golfer who makes a double bogey. You just have to figure out that the game isn’t over. You haven’t played all 18 holes yet.
“If you’re still in it, you’ve got to be able to say, ‘All right, I’m pissed, but I’ll worry about that later tomorrow and figure it out and get better. Right now, our team needs me to play at the best that I can play on this next play.’ Dez does a good job of that.”
That’s what Bryant did down the stretch Sunday, repaying a debt to his teammates.
“I’m very, very, very, very, very excited about the win,” said Bryant, who caught nine of the 16 balls thrown to him for 102 yards. “As far as my performance, it can be a lot better.”
Bryant bluntly said he hated the way he performed for most of the day. He holds himself to an extremely high standard, so he certainly wasn’t satisfied after making a couple of critical mistakes.
It will be a frustrating Monday film session for Bryant ... until the final drive.