It won’t rival the Hail Mary catch by Drew Pearson as an iconic moment in the history of the Cowboys, but it could do the trick for 2014. With a game the Cowboys should’ve salted away in regulation teetering in overtime, quarterback Tony Romo dialed up one of the best playmakers in the league.
Dez Bryant’s leaping 37-yard grab just five minutes into overtime put the Cowboys in position to escape with a 20-17 win at AT&T Stadium.
Surrounded by reporters a few minutes later, Bryant finally conceded it was the most clutch catch of his career. As he often does, he plucked the ball at its highest point. This time, the Texans’ best cornerback Johnathan Joseph had one arm fully extended between Bryant’s hands. Texans coaches and players were aghast as Bryant somehow cradled the ball to his chest while both players crashed to the turf. If this Cowboys team somehow finds itself in the playoffs, Sunday’s catch could be one of the main reasons.
"Those are not easy plays," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "When you have a guy like Dez Bryant, sometimes you start taking those things for granted. I think he goes up and gets the ball in contested situations as well as any receiver in the league."
Romo offered a lengthy explanation as to how he gave Bryant a signal to run the deep route. But it looked like something you’d see on the schoolyard. Bryant used a stutter-step before accelerating to a full sprint. He wasn’t able to get separation from Joseph, but it didn’t matter. Romo has the luxury of throwing in the direction of one of the two or three most athletic receivers in the game. The Cowboys quarterback was on his back by the time Bryant came down with the ball, but he could tell what happened by the crowd’s reaction.
"I was not able to hold It as long as I wanted to, so I kind of had to give the throw a little bit of air, and give Dez a chance to go up," Romo said. "I knew he was in a one-on-one situation and I just tried to make sure that he was able to come down with the ball."
Bryant finished with nine catches for 85 yards and a touchdown Sunday. He’s remained patient this season when teams have committed an extra defender to his side. And when his teammate Terrance Williams dropped what would’ve likely been a touchdown pass late in the first half, it was Bryant who encouraged him. His sideline rants have morphed into team-building.
"You know who you are," Bryant recalled telling Williams. "Don’t worry about that. Let it go. He came back and made a play."
On that play, Romo somehow escaped the grasp of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and heaved the ball 43 yards to Williams for a touchdown. After answering questions about Watt all week, the Cowboys were pretty effective at keeping him away from their quarterback.
"Every time I turn on NFL Network, they need to show that play," Bryant said. "J.J. Watt is probably the best defensive player in the league."
Bryant also claimed this was "DeMarco’s show," referring to the Cowboys’ star running back who became only the third running back in NFL history to open the season with five consecutive 100-yard games. But it was Bryant who took center stage at the most crucial point in Sunday’s game.
And it’s no mistake that he’s wearing that No. 88 jersey.