ARLINGTON, Texas -- A distraught Dez Bryant couldn't stomach the thought of helplessly watching the final 81 seconds tick off the clock.
His premature departure for the home locker room wasn't a great publicity move, but the Cowboys have about 1,000 more pressing problems after their miraculous meltdown in Sunday's 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“I'm hurt, man,” Bryant whispered at his locker, declining further comment. He couldn't have said much more without breaking into tears.
This story should have been about a dominant performance that was overdue for Bryant, one of the NFL's most gifted receivers. But his 11-catch, 153-yard, one-touchdown outing -- boosting his somewhat disappointing season totals, given his ability, to 81 catches for 1,061 yards and 11 touchdowns -- was merely a footnote after the Cowboys figured out a way to blow a 23-point lead in the second half.
Coach Jason Garrett insisted this week that Bryant was a better receiver than last season, no matter what the numbers indicated. Bryant seconded that motion, then backed it up with the kind of production expected from a receiver blessed with so much talent.
His 5-yard touchdown catch should have been the postgame buzz. He freelanced while Tony Romo scrambled, then snatched the ball over two Green Bay defenders in the back of the end zone before somehow getting both feet down in bounds. It's the kind of play few receivers can make, and it put the Cowboys up a dozen points with 7:55 to play.
But Bryant ended the afternoon practically speechless, an emotional wreck.
Maybe he left AT&T Stadium thinking about the plays that could have been, not the plays he made. He set season highs for catches and yards, but he easily could have doubled his yardage total if Romo put some deep balls on the money.
Romo hit Bryant for a 37-yard gain on one go route, but it would have been a 69-yard score if the pass hit the target in stride. The Cowboys ended up scoring a touchdown anyway on that drive.
A few other Romo misfires were much more costly.
Romo badly underthrew Bryant on a deep ball early in the second quarter, allowing safety Morgan Burnett to break up a third-down bomb that should have been a 53-yard touchdown. Bryant couldn't make a diving catch on an overthrown pass in the end zone the next series, and the Cowboys settled for a field goal a couple of plays later. The Cowboys settled for another field goal early in the third quarter, when Bryant didn't catch another underthrown deep ball that could have been a 36-yard touchdown if Romo led him. And Romo's throw was well short once again on a would-be 80-yard touchdown, allowing the pass to be broken up a little more than a minute before the interception that set up Green Bay's go-ahead touchdown.
“I think the worst thing you can do sometimes with Dez is overthrow him, so obviously you would like to hit him perfectly in stride and go through,” Romo said. “He's such a great athlete that he comes down with most of them. I look back and I wish that I had one or two where I gave it a little bit more.”
Perhaps those plays would have been the difference. The Cowboys, with their defense that turns backups into Pro Bowlers, certainly can use all the points they can get.
That's why Bryant, who takes losing as hard as anyone in that locker room, better get over this soul-crushing defeat soon.
If he isn't dominant, time is sure to run out on the Cowboys' season in two weeks.