Dez Bryant showed signs of becoming a superstar in the second half of the 2012 season. And that’s why he received the bulk of the Giants’ attention during the Cowboys’ 36-31 win Sunday.
Bryant only caught four passes for 22 yards, but his presence paved the way for big games from Jason Witten and Miles Austin. In fact, Witten became Romo’s primary option in the red zone, overwhelming Giants linebackers with his size and speed. Austin had 10 catches for 72 yards. He worked the middle of the field while the Giants committed safety help to Bryant’s side of the field.
Bryant’s reaction after the game served as a stark contrast to the way Dolphins bonus-baby Mike Wallace reacted after a Miami win in which he wasn’t featured in the offense. Bryant certainly wants to pile up huge stats in order to build a case for a lucrative contract extension, but he seems to value winning more than personal goals.
“Hey, I got my stats through Witt, through Miles, through Tony and the rest of the other guys,” Bryant told ESPNDallas.com following Sunday’s game. “[The Giants] respected me tonight. I know what I can do. Everybody across this world knows what I can do. And they know, if the ball is thrown my way, I’m going to get to it. I don’t care if it’s double [coverage], triple or whatever. I’m going to try my best to get to it. But we play smart football here. We want to win, and I think we went the smart route tonight.”
That has to please Jason Garrett, who spent his first couple seasons in Dallas trying to placate Terrell Owens. Bryant is demonstrative with quarterback Tony Romo at times, but there seems to be a mutual respect. Early in Bryant’s time with the Cowboys, Garrett tried so hard to get him the ball that it sometimes undermined the offense. Now, he knows that Bryant will continue to compete whether or not the ball’s coming his way. And to be clear, he was targeted on eight passes against the Giants.
Romo and Bryant have developed tremendous chemistry, so it’s hard to imagine the wide receiver having another quiet game. Bryant measures himself against Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who also had a quiet opening game. It’s nice that Garrett and Romo no longer put pressure on themselves to keep their star wide receiver engaged. He’s simply become much more professional in his approach.
“Obviously, any time 88’s on the field, he’s going to draw attention,” Witten said. “He’s a phenomenal receiver. He’s going to have a great year.”
Witten’s been putting up huge numbers for the past decade, but Bryant’s presence could make the tight end more of a threat in the red zone. It’s been frustrating for Witten in past seasons because he’s been kept in to block when the Cowboys are close to the goal line. But watching him post up linebackers and safeties Sunday night made you wonder why the Cowboys haven’t worked harder to get him involved.
Opposing teams used to pay more attention to Witten than any player other than Romo. Now, it looks like they’ll turn a lot of their attention to Bryant. And he sees that as a positive.
“If teams want to continue to keep doing that, we’ll continue to keep doing what we’re doing,” Bryant said. “I honestly feel like it’s respect. You’re respecting me, so therefore, it’s always good to see somebody else shine.”