Dez Bryant cancels himself out

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Romocoaster might be the featured attraction, but the Dez Bryant Bandwagon is the wildest, craziest ride at Jerry Jones' traveling carnival.

Only the truly brave -- or totally insane -- are still on it, crash helmets strapped on and seat belts buckled tight.

The ride was as exhilarating and exasperating as ever Sunday. The afternoon essentially summed up the career of the Dallas Cowboys' high-drama receiver so far.

Bryant alternated between awful and amazing. He deserved arguably the biggest share of the blame for the Cowboys being buried by 23 points after 17 minutes. Then he played a huge role in what could have been the Cowboys' biggest comeback, finishing with a career-high 110 yards on five catches.

And Bryant almost had his fingerprints all over the moment that might have catapulted the Cowboys to the kind of season they dream about -- if only his fingertip didn't come out of bounds.

The instant replay, however, was clear. Bryant's glove barely touched that white end line a split second before his backside crashed into the blue turf. The jaw-dropping display of athleticism, that leaping catch between New York Giants defenders in the end zone with seconds remaining, was simply a spectacular incompletion.

Who cares about the what-ifs? The Cowboys didn't win, their slim division-title hopes near death after the 29-24 loss to their NFC East rivals.

"When they took it away, my heart just dropped," Bryant said. "I had my mind set that if the ball was thrown to me -- I don't care -- I was going to come down with it. And I came down with it. And I thought I was in. It's just frustrating."

Frustrating would be the word that best fits Bryant. For this game. For this season. For his career.

Jones was so giddy to get Bryant late in the first round, even with all the off-field baggage, that the owner/general manager assigned the kid No. 88. That essentially anointed Bryant as the next great Cowboys receiver, deeming him as building on the legacies left by Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin.

"I think Dez understands the standards are high," tight end Jason Witten said, diplomatically. "And I think he has a bright future."

People are tired of talking about Bryant's potential. It's his third NFL season. It's past time for Bryant to live up to the billing.

For all the flashes of brilliance, Bryant is best known right now as a physical freak who just does so much wrong.

And that's just focusing on what Bryant does at work. Forget for a moment about Bryant's chaotic personal life, which caused most NFL teams to pass on him and prompted Jones and Bryant's other babysitters to craft a strict, specific set of rules for him this summer.

A leaping touchdown catch with the game on the line could have served as Lysol for Bryant's early-game brain farts. But it didn't happen, so the stench remains from his poor route that played a role in Tony Romo's first interception and the reckless punt return that resulted in a lost fumble.

Those gaffes gifted the Giants a couple of field goals. Wipe them away and the Cowboys wouldn't have needed a miraculous touchdown catch in the final moments.

But the killer mistakes can't be considered surprises. It's part of the package with Bryant.

He has always been a sloppy route runner. It bit the Cowboys when he failed to flatten his route in the first quarter, rounding it off enough to allow safety Stevie Brown to break in front of him for the pick. It earned the wrath of Romo on the sideline.

He has always been too careless with the ball. It bit the Cowboys when he tried to be a superhero on a punt return, muffing a ball over his head, picking it up and holding it loosely while trying to weave through traffic until Zak DeOssie knocked it to the turf, where a man wearing blue emerged from the pile of bodies with the ball.

It's to the point now that even Jerry, an enabler by nature and especially when he has stuck his neck out for a player, is getting fed up with Bryant.

"It's the mistakes that will lose the ballgame," Jones said. "The big plays don't win the games as much as the mistakes lose the ballgame. That's that way throughout the positions on the team. Certainly, that's the case there."

Bryant's response to his boss' pointed criticism: "He's absolutely right. Just got to eliminate the mistakes. Those are things that kill you."

That's not breaking news. The Cowboys have been trying to hammer it into Bryant's thick skull since the day they drafted him.

But Bryant's biggest games are all marred by massive mistakes.

The Dez discussion after his eight-catch, 105-yard outing in the Monday night loss to the Chicago Bears was dominated by his three drops and a mental malfunction that led to a pick-six.

When Bryant came down with a career-best 13 receptions and two touchdowns the next game, folks couldn't help but focus on the dropped 2-point conversion that could have tied the game in the final minute of a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

And the two turnovers outweighed the 110 yards Sunday against the Giants.

The problems with Bryant -- and we're purely focusing on the professional ones -- are painfully obvious. How about the solutions?

"I don't think we even have the forum here to talk about how to coach him or correct some of the things we need to correct in here with coaches," said Jones, who hired a receivers coach away from the then-defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to oversee Bryant's development two offseason ago.

"Certainly, we've got to get to a point with him where he can make those plays like he almost made at the end but not make those mistakes."

That seems like wishful thinking for the NFL's ultimate tease, a tremendous talent who spins out of control more often than he makes spectacular plays.

If you want to be brave, stay in your seat on the Dez Bryant Bandwagon. Just don't be shocked when disaster hits.