Dez Bryant taps into his potential
In a woeful season, rookie brightens Cowboys' outlook with jaw-dropping receptions
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jerry Jones tried to keep a measured tone when discussing his interim coach's successful debut, not wanting to get too giddy after just one game.
Jones hopes Jason Garrett proves worthy of being the Cowboys' coach on a permanent basis, but there is no certainty that Garrett will return to Valley Ranch next season. Bryant, on the other hand, will be one of the Cowboys' featured attractions for the foreseeable future.
That's reason enough for Jones to smile after a stunning 33-20 victory over the New York Giants that snapped the Giants' five-game winning streak -- and Dallas' five-game losing streak -- and gave Dallas at least a one-week reprieve from gloom and doom.
"Dez will make you feel good about the future," Jones said, his eyes lighting up as he broke into a big grin. "You talking about something that happened out there tonight? This will make you feel real good about your future."
Bryant, the biggest bright spot in a disappointing season, was simply spectacular against the Giants. He caught only three passes, but his impact was immense.
The receptions, which covered 104 yards, each gave a glimpse of the unique talents that tempted Jones to trade up to draft Bryant with the 24th pick in the first round and anoint him with No. 88 on draft night. We could spend days debating which play made the most impressive highlight.
Quarterback Jon Kitna, who turned back the clock by throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns, would argue for Bryant's first grab. It was a 45-yard gain on which Bryant blew by Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas on a deep route and ran down an overthrown pass, stretching to make the catch while going to the ground.
"When I let it go, I didn't think there was any chance he was getting it, but somehow he tracked it down," Kitna said. "That's the kind of player he is. He's just one of those that's a different breed that way."
Bryant's second catch, a juggling act in the end zone, came on the next play. He soared over Thomas on a fade route, tipping the ball to himself, snatching it as he fell to the ground and securing it before he crashed chest-first to the blue turf. The play was originally ruled an incompletion but then overturned by a review, which gave fans a chance to view the phenomenal grab from several angles.
"I feel like if you put it there, I'm going to get it," said Bryant. After the first 100-yard game of his career, he has 41 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns this season.
But Bryant might be at his best after he gets the ball in his hands. He turned a zero-yard pass into a 46-yard gain in the third quarter, making a man miss and accelerating down the right sideline to set up the touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 20-point lead.
And perhaps the best play by Bryant didn't even count as a catch. He made another leaping grab on a deep ball over Thomas in the fourth quarter, but the 48-yard gain was overturned after a review. Replays showed that Bryant, who landed flat on his back, didn't have control of the ball when his shoulder went out of bounds.
It was the kind of catch few receivers can make. It was the kind of catch Bryant makes on a regular basis.
"He has that kind of ability," Garrett said. "He's a very natural football player. That's what we saw in him coming out and he demonstrated that over the course of the first nine games. He has a long way to go as a player, he has to refine a lot of different things, but he has some ability to make some little plays and certainly some big plays as well."
The most exciting thing about Bryant is that he's just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
He's a rookie who missed the entire preseason and still has a lot to learn. He's still in the beginning stages of mastering Garrett's playbook, much less the advanced arts of playing receiver in the NFL, such as adjusting routes based on coverage.
"You just want to see him have all the opportunities that he can, and the way for him to do that is for him to stay healthy and really work and understand what he's doing out there better," Jones said. "He does have a lot of room to grow. But he sure is a bright spot for our future."
You can't blame the boss for believing that Bryant will make him smile for many years to come.