Apparently, Dez Bryant had seen enough. (FOX Sports)
With 1:24 left in the fourth quarter of the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo checked out of a run play and threw a horrible interception to Packers cornerback Tramon Williams on a pass intended for Cole Beasley. Romo's attempt was off-course, and it was an awful decision. The score was 37-36 in favor of Green Bay, and the Packers had come back from a 26-3 halftime deficit. Romo had the ball at the Dallas 29-yard line, the Cowboys had been gashing the Packers' front seven with the running game and all Romo had to do was to avoid the major brain-cramp and get his team into field-goal range -- which he had the time and the resources to do.
One of Romo's resources was receiver Dez Bryant, who caught 11 passes on 17 targets for 153 yards and a touchdown on the day. Bryant's touchdown was an amazing play -- he went vertical and grabbed the pass despite the efforts of more than one Green Bay defender. That showed Bryant's freakish talent, but what happened after Romo's interception also showed Bryant's immaturity. After the pick, and the review allowing Walt Coleman's officiating crew to catch up with the idea that it was a pick, Bryant was caught by FOX Sports' cameras as he walked off the field.
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Bryant tried to explain the incident on Twitter.
I walked back to the locker room because I was emotional...it had nothing to do with my teammates we had it... We fought and didn't finish
— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) December 16, 2013
Is it possible that Bryant walked at that point because he knew that he might explode on the sideline if he stayed? There's certainly a history to indicate that. When the Cowboys lost 31-30 to the Detroit Lions on Oct. 27, Bryant appeared to blow up at his teammates several times on the sideline, though it was later passed off by all involved as the inevitable aftereffect of Bryant's competitive spirit. In actual fact, Bryant was trying to tell his teammates to keep going -- he was exhorting them to not lose heart.
But as Mike Ditka said on ESPN's Mike and Mike show Monday morning, there are a lot of factors at play when a guy with a history of weird decisions does something like this.
"If you accept that, you get it. If you don't accept it, then you put him on the bench for the rest of the year. You're not going anywhere now. I think that sometimes, the lessons you learn in life seem pretty harsh, but you've got to get them. Dez is a good player and a great kid. I think you've got to be careful with perception and reality, and the perception of what he did is really bad."
It's also possible that Bryant was unhappy because it was the second time in two plays that Romo targeted Beasley, who caught three passes for 19 yards in the game. At that point, Bryant would have cause if he felt that he was the most explosive and expansive weapon against the Packers defense. After all, he'd been proving it all day long. On the drive before the interception, Bryant caught a pass for a first down, taking the ball from the Dallas 18-yard line to the Dallas 31. But Romo then threw a pick to Packers defensive back Sam Shields on a pass intended for Miles Austin. Bryant wasn't even on the field for that play; he was getting stretched on the sideline. Green Bay scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown on the subsequent drive, and Bryant's day was effectively over.
It appeared that the game-killing pick was as much on Beasley for not completing his route as it was on Romo, and Beasley agreed with that assertion after the game.
“I’ve got to keep running,” he said, per ESPN Dallas. “That was on me. That’s all it was. ... I stopped when I should have kept going. That’s about it. I saw the corner and I throttled down a little bit. I don’t have the option to do that on my play. That was my fault. We didn’t execute how we were supposed to. I take full responsibility for it. I’ve just got to keep running and catch the ball and take the hit.”
No matter the reason, Bryant's move to effectively give up on the game before time had elapsed seems to sum up the Cowboys' season -- yet another frustrating year under head coach Jason Garrett, with owner Jerry Jones always pulling the strings. Blame Bryant all you want, but until things above him change, you can probably expect more drama down the road.
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