Mac Engel

The Cowboys aren’t the Cowboys without Dez Bryant

Jerry Jones called it one of the great moments in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, but the man who made the actual play is not sure if it’s the best catch of his career.

“He made a great play that oughta go down in Cowboys history,” Jerry said.

That is some Super Bowl-caliber hyperbole from one of the most brilliant exaggerationalists (that needs to be a word) that has ever lived.

“Let’s see ... I got a lot of them,” Dez said, tongue in cheek. “Get back to me on that.”

Dez’s best catch with the Cowboys was his “What the How?” touchdown grab he had against the Lions in Detroit last season. Google or YouTube that catch. He told me that his 37-yard catch in overtime on Sunday is not better than his Houdini grab against the Lions last year.

“Uh, no,” he said. “But I haven’t seen the replay [of this one].”

He should, and he will. It’s special. The most important catch of his pro career, in terms of clutch, is the 37-yarder against the Texans.

“Oh, I agree to that,” he said. “It was great — especially at that moment. It’s something that I love to do. [Coverage] couldn’t have been any better. We both had to battle for it.”

It was a special play made by a special player, and the stuff but a few men can make.

Dez Bryant may not lead the league in receptions or touchdowns, but he is as valuable as any receiver in the NFL to his particular team. The Cowboys are not the Cowboys without Dez. Jerry Jones is ultimately the face of this franchise, but its bravado comes from the man called “Eight Eight.”

On the play, the coverage was perfect from Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Dez went up for the ball, extended his arms and hands to catch it, and, when the ball went around Joseph, it didn’t matter. The special ones just catch it while the mortals of this world lament the possibilities of such a play.

In this case, the play gave the Cowboys first down on a third-and-8 and was the game’s decisive big play that led to the team converting a field goal for its fourth consecutive win.

Bryant finished the day with nine catches for 85 yards and one touchdown, and now he has scores in four consecutive games, but it was his overtime catch that makes him Dez.

“He does that once a week. That’s what he does,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. “He works on catching tough passes. I’m proud of him. There are not too many people that can do what he just did out there and really set up the win for us.”

Dez is the rare case of a young man who continues to grow up while we all watch. Two years ago, it was a collection of off-the-field incidents that have since faded. Last year, it was a handful of on-the-field sideline blowups that looked worse than they were.

This year, it hasn’t been much of anything other than production. We keep waiting for Dez to revert back to being a dumb kid, but it is hard to find evidence. He is exceptionally cooperative with the media, and he is a man who understands that if he treats people right, and is sincere, it will be returned.

This is not an act. I asked him what he does differently today than he would as a rookie.

“On the field?” he asked.

Yes.

“I’m older. There are guys in this locker room that look up to me,” he said. “They can’t be asking questions and me not knowing what I know now, and not being able to help me. That doesn’t look right. I take pride going to work each day and share with these younger guys. I want them to be great and help this team.”

Since he opened the door, I asked what about off the field?

“Off the field, it’s the same thing. My biggest fan is my son — Dez Jr. He’s 4,” he said. “He watches me every single day. When I leave, he will ask me questions about this game. He knows this game inside-out.”

Dez is on pace for 102 catches, 1,203 yards and 13 touchdowns. With the exception of yardage, that would be a career season.

Dez is no different than any other position player — numbers matter. And they should. When he says winning trumps numbers, it’s not empty rhetoric. We believe he will make the type of catches he made in overtime on Sunday, and we should believe him when he says winning is the priority.

This team has more conventional and traditional leaders, most notably veterans Jason Witten and Brandon Carr. But its swagger and confidence comes from Eight-Eight.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.

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