ARLINGTON, Texas — Dez Bryant has been making a lot of noise on the field lately.
That he hasn’t been making any noise off the field during this stretch is no coincidence.
Bryant came up big in the second half of the Cowboys’ 38-33 win over the Eagles on Sunday night. He had five catches, including two touchdowns and a 35-yard reception on a key third-and-two play.
Over the last four games, Bryant has 29 catches for 475 yards and six touchdowns. He’s reached a level of comfort that has allowed him to be a big contributor in every game.
He’s also finally in a good place in his life off the field. Bryant was asked after the game if a sense of calm in his personal life has benefited his play.
“I’m not going to dig all the way into that,” Bryant said. “But, yes. Yes.”
Bryant’s only recent off-the-field news came when it was announced he had reached an agreement with the Dallas County District Attorney’s office to undergo anger management counseling to drop a family violence charge against him.
The charge stemmed from an incident with his mother last summer. Bryant’s attorney said his client already has been going to counseling, and that just might be a key to his recent consistency in games.
“I think Dez, everywhere, is just being more dedicated,” owner Jerry Jones said. “Not more dedicated, but is being noticeably dedicated, noticeably committed, if you want to compare it to months ago, or compare it to at least two years ago. It’s showing. It’s showing on and off the field for him.”
Jones didn’t have to include the “off the field” remark, but it’s clear that Dez being a good citizen is as important to him as his catches and touchdowns. After all, it was Jones who traded up to draft Bryant in 2010 despite all the stories about his lack of maturity.
Let Dez be someone else’s headache, everyone said. Yet Jones was determined to draft the brilliant athlete out of Oklahoma State.
In his first two seasons with the Cowboys, Bryant seemed determined to live up to his reputation for being undisciplined. There was a run-in with cops at an upscale mall over sagging pants. There were two separate lawsuits from jewelers claiming he owed them six-figure amounts. There was even a reported run-in with rapper Lil’ Wayne and his posse.
The domestic violence charge, a misdemeanor, against Bryant was the first time his antics had become a criminal matter. His mother asked the DA not to pursue the matter, but apparently it was a turning point for Bryant.
“Dez is growing up before our eyes,” head coach Jason Garrett beamed after the game. “He’s really becoming a more consistent player and week in and week out, he seems to be making a lot of plays for us — plays down the field, run-after-catch type plays.”
Against the Eagles, Dez flashed both his speed and his brawn.
His 23-yard touchdown catch on the first possession of the second half sparked a Cowboys rally. Quarterback Tony Romo had to evade pressure before finding Bryant, who smartly drifted into an open area.
In the fourth quarter, on a third-and-two at the Cowboys’ 22-yard line, Bryant beat press coverage for a 35-yard gain.
That set up Bryant for a go-ahead touchdown, a six-yarder that required him to use his 6-2, 220-pound frame to fight through a tackler to the end zone.
“Tony, he believes in me and I want that to increase more,” Bryant said. “It’s just all about being focused and not losing composure, and just doing what’s right. If he calls his plays and I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, not doing anything different, that makes a difference.”
Bryant also made a spectacular sideline grab, despite tight coverage in the first half. It was the only time Romo threw his way in the first half and it came with 2:06 left.
In the past, that kind of half might have frustrated Bryant, who has been known to be demonstrative on the sideline when passes are coming his way.
This time, there was no frustration.
“Not one bit,” said Bryant. “I know when my number is called, hey, I’m going to do my job, just like everybody else. I knew it was going to come, and it did.”
Earlier this season, it was an almost regular occurrence for Romo or receivers coach Jimmy Robinson to have stern conversations with Bryant after a miscommunication on a play. Against the Eagles, the TV cameras showed Robinson putting a congratulatory arm around Bryant.
“I understand now,” Bryant said. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing.
“Like I said a long time ago, if you’re going to be out there with Wit (Jason Witten), if you’re going to be out there with Tony (Romo), Miles (Austin) and the rest of those guys, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. I felt like I’m Dez, too. I feel like I’m Dez again.”
Finding peace off the field has no doubt helped him become “Dez again.” Instead of being a headache for Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, a more focused Bryant has become a consistent headache for opponents.