This past summer, I had the gall to suggest that Dez Bryant was a better wide receiver than Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, and as a result, I was lambasted by readers for that crime against humanity.
Now, I'm not here to say I told you so, because blind squirrels shouldn't boast about the nuts they uncover. But I admitted I was projecting there, and now it finally looks as though the 24-year-old Bryant has truly emerged as the division's most valuable wideout.
If at some point we're able to reflect on when exactly the light went on for the talented but controversial and highly criticized young Dallas Cowboy, we'll undoubtedly point to the last month.
After starting his third season off in rocky fashion, he's recently become one of the most dangerous, consistent and effective wide receivers in the game.
Bryant dropped seven passes and ran two routes that resulted in interceptions during the course of the first eight weeks of 2012. Since then, in four games, he's dropped zero passes and hasn't appeared to screw up a single route. He caught all six passes he was targeted on Sunday night against Philadelphia and has grabbed 78 percent of the passes thrown his way since Week 10. Prior to that, he was catching 66 percent of Tony Romo's throws.
Over that four-week period, he has six touchdown catches, which is more than any other receiver in the game by a 50 percent margin. His 475 yards rank below only Calvin and Andre Johnson, and only those two have more catches than Bryant does since Week 11.
He appears to be focused. Crisp routes, no drops, no communication lapses with Romo. The beast is putting it together. He's proving why it was worthwhile for the Cowboys to look past his character concerns and select him with the 24th pick of the 2010 NFL draft.
The key, though, isn't that he's now eliminated mental mistakes. That's nice, sure. But Bryant is also making big play after big play—the types of plays that only an elite group of NFL players can come up with on a consistent basis.
For instance, there was that one-handed catch against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the second quarter Sunday night....
And there was that diving touchdown grab against DRC in a fourth-quarter comeback victory over the Eagles four weeks ago...
That was reminiscent of another diving score against Washington in Week 12...
Earlier in the year, Bryant was becoming infamous for failing to make those exact plays. Like, for example, on this two-point conversion drop in the final seconds against Baltimore...
Of course, he wouldn't be a true beast of a receiver if he didn't make plays with sheer power and drive, too. Like when he took a short Romo pass in the third quarter Sunday and turned it into a 23-yard touchdown, 21 yards of which came from Bryant's legs.
By the time he got inside the 10-yard line, Bryant had zero blockers and five Philly defenders surrounding him. And yet he'd score...
Later, it was the same story on this six-yard touchdown. It's amazing he ends up in the end zone from this spot...
Cris Collinsworth said it best on this huge third-down conversion in tight coverage against Rodgers-Cromartie Sunday night.
"I just know how I would play it," Collinsworth said on the NBC broadcast. "There would be at least two to three throws per game. Forget about it, you're playing on the street. Throw it up to this kid and give him a chance."
The coverage is almost irrelevant when Bryant's on his game.
From a yardage standpoint, seven of the top nine games of Bryant's career have taken place in the last two months. He's a different player suddenly, with the last three or four weeks truly standing out. Maybe it's not a coincidence that said stretch started just as Bryant put to bed a family violence charge over a dispute with his mother.
Maybe he really was distracted.
Which is why it's tempting to purchase Bryant's claim (per SportsDay) that he's "just getting started." The question, now, isn't whether he can dominate, but whether he can stay focused enough to continue to do so on a consistent basis.
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