Mac Engel

Embrace the horror: Dez Bryant is Tony Romo

Dez Bryant injures his knee on the second play of the game Sunday night against the Bears.
Dez Bryant injures his knee on the second play of the game Sunday night against the Bears. Special to the Star-Telegram

Dez Bryant could play against the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday, but right now it’s time to entertain the reality he will not. Because he’s not.

Even though Dez plays a different position and is nine years younger, he is Tony Romo without Dak Prescott to bail out the Cowboys.

Few players care as much as No. 88, but he routinely has battled a variety of pulls, aches and ouches since he walked into the league. He’s injury prone, and there is nothing the Cowboys can do about it other than to toss out the lame “Next man up” line which is always a hit or miss proposition.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday that Dez has a hairline fracture in his right knee, and that his status is day-to-day. The first part is true while the rest is a load.

Despite the fact that Dez told reporters he “might” play against the 49ers, he’s out. He’s not out for the season, and he has played with serious injuries before, but a wide receiver is not going to come back this fast from a hairline fracture in his knee.

Dez apparently suffered the injury on the second play of the Cowboys’ win against the Bears on Sunday night. He remained in the game and caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown.

There is absolutely no good explanation, other than a family emergency, why Dez did not have an MRI on Monday. In the NFL, equipment guys will have an MRI on Monday to see if their scrub hand is OK. Cowboys guard La’el Collins had an MRI on his toe — on Monday.

Nope, Dez couldn’t make it in on Tuesday, either.

The MRI was done Wednesday morning. Garrett would not explain why.

It’s 99.9 percent likely Dez blew off the MRI because he could, and/or he was scared to learn what the injury could be. Or the Cowboys suddenly have the worst training staff ever, which they don’t.

Garrett said he would not rule out the possibility of a player playing in the next game without practicing.

“We’re for practice,” Garrett said.

That’s a relief.

At this point, given what has happened in his past, the Cowboys, their fans and fantasy football general managers everywhere simply must hold their breath every time Bryant does a thing and brace for injury every time he makes a catch. We can’t take for granted that, despite the fact Bryant is not yet 30, he can get through a full 16 games.

Although he played in 16 games every season from 2012-14, Bryant has continually battled a hamstring there, a sprain there, a sore back, and has missed a lot of football for a young guy.

As a freshman at Oklahoma State, he suffered a torn ligament in his left knee that required surgery. As a junior, Dez played in only three games because of an NCAA suspension. As a rookie, he suffered a fractured ankle that knocked him out of four games.

He played with a fractured left index finger the final three games of the 2012 season.

Before the start of last season, he missed all of the off-season because of a lengthy contract holdout. In the first game of 2015, he suffered a broken foot that limited him to nine ineffective games.

And in each of the past two years, he has been held out, or been purposely limited, in the preseason for the obvious reason — the Cowboys don’t want him in a vulnerable position unless the game counts.

Dez Bryant is a thoroughbred sprinter: He is layered in tight muscles and there is no give for when he suffers the occasional scratch. Or hairline fracture. It’s not his fault, and it’s not for a lack of effort; like Romo, things happen.

The Cowboys are now going to ask rookie quarterback Dak Prescott to win a game without Bryant, his starting left guard, potentially his starting left tackle and a defense that still lacks its best pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence.

“It doesn’t really affect this offense,” Prescott said. “I don’t pay attention to who I’m throwing to.”

I don’t believe him either.

The Cowboys are a different team without Dez on the field, or in the locker room. He is the one guy who demands two defenders during the game, and is this team’s bravado. There is no replacement for that.

“They’ve got playmakers without Dez, but I believe Dez is one of the premier receivers in this game,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said Wednesday afternoon during a conference call with DFW reporters. “Obviously, he elicits a lot of coverage just because of who he is. It’s not like, if Dez doesn’t play, they don’t have any weapons to throw to.”

Technically, Chip is right. But we saw last year that fourth-year receiver Terrance Williams is not a capable replacement for Bryant, and that Cole Beasley needs him to create space underneath and over the middle.

While we accepted going into the season there was a good chance Tony Romo would suffer an injury and miss extended time, there was no such mental preventative measure with Dez Bryant.

We know now we must be because Dez Bryant is not much different than Tony Romo: prone to injury.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Cowboys at 49ers

3:25 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4

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