IRVING -- Receiver Dez Bryant has been accused of being a lot of things since he joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2010.
Even petulant and potentially reckless -- reasons the Cowboys and his advisers have him flanked by a full-time security team, undergoing weekly counseling and adhering to a curfew.
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But also know this: Bryant cares as much as anyone on the team about winning.
It's one reason he was one of the last players to leave the locker room after Sunday's 31-29 loss at Baltimore --- a game in which Bryant had a career-high 13 catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns, including a 4-yarder from Tony Romo to bring the Cowboys within two points with 36 seconds to play.
His dropped 2-point conversion pass that would have tied the game left him hurting afterward and still lamenting the play this week.
"That's a play I should make," Bryant said. "I'm still kicking myself. I have to make that play all the time."
The Cowboys will give him a chance to make the play again. Despite his bouts of inconsistency, he is still their most explosive offensive player.
It's one reason that coach Jason Garrett called Bryant's number on the final drive after a recovered onside kick.
The reason the Cowboys had to settle for a 51-yard field goal try, outside of time mismanagement by Garrett and Romo in the waning seconds, was that Bryant was stopped for a 1-yard gain on the play preceding the missed field goal attempt.
The Cowboys threw a slant to Bryant, expecting him to break a tackle and get extra yardage because of his strength that has made him tough for one man to bring him down.
Garrett credits the Ravens' defense for making a play on the slant but believes Bryant should have made a catch on the 2-point conversion.
"He did so many good things in the ballgame," Garrett said. "Dez has shown that he's got a tremendous ability to make contested catches, and for whatever reason, that one didn't work out. What we talk about all the time with the receivers is you can't expect it to be clean. You have to expect it to be challenged and you have to go get the football. In that particular case, he didn't."
If there is a bright side to the loss to the Ravens, or even the previous loss to the Chicago Bears, it is the growth of Bryant.
Although his effort against the Bears was also marred by two drops and a busted route, which led to an interception that was returned for a touchdown, he had eight catches for 105 yards. It was the first time since his rookie year that had he topped 100 yards receiving.
Bryant has 21 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games, albeit both losses.
"I'm not here to be a show-off," Bryant said. "Like Coach Garrett always says, he doesn't want flashy players. He wants guys who make plays consistently."
Through five games, Bryant leads the Cowboys with 34 catches for 364 yards, putting him on pace for 90 catches for 1,164 yards for the year.
Those numbers would give Bryant the breakout season the Cowboys predicted in the off-season.
Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones has said Bryant had the talent to be the team's No. 1 receiver.
Bryant said he wants to be the team's go-to receiver in key situations.
"Of course, I do," Bryant said. "That's the mentality you are supposed to have. If you don't, you are going to lose every time in this league. You can't be mediocre."
Bryant said his passion and zest for the ball is about the team and not about him. He rejects any comparison to former Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens, whom he respected and looked up to as a player.
"I love T.O.," Bryant said. "But that is not me. I do my job. I'm team first. I have never been me, me, me. I understand people look at stats, but I want to win. We want to win. That's what it's all about."
So when the Cowboys point to building blocks from Sunday's loss to the Ravens, look no further than Bryant.
The 2010 first-round pick out of Oklahoma State is passionate and cares.
It's something to be excited about.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.