Dez Bryant injured his left index finger in Sunday's emotional victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, and now the Dallas Cowboys' hottest player will have to decide whether to delay surgery and attempt to play with the finger heavily padded or throw in the towel on the 2012 season by fixing said digit immediately.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told KRLD 105.3 FM in Dallas (via Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) that hand specialists have indicated that Bryant's finger could be left with some stiffness permanently if he elects to delay surgery.
Jones also said, though, that decision will ultimately lie in Bryant's hands.
And if Bryant has even a minuscule chance of making an impact over the final three weeks of 2012—a possibility raised as a best-case scenario by ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer on Monday—he absolutely has to tape it up, suck it up and get onto the field.
I know, I know—easy for the blogger to say. But shelf lives are too short in this league and windows close too quickly to take the safe route in a situation like this.
Lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers and fall out of the race in the next week or two and you can shut Bryant down and limit any potential lasting effects by jumping into an operating room, but the reality is that this team has almost no chance of beating Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Washington and sneaking into the playoffs without its touchdown leader.
Each of Bryant's nine touchdowns have come in the second half, and seven have come in the last five games alone. During that stretch, Bryant ranks third in the NFL in receptions, fourth in receiving yards and first in touchdowns. He's finally become elite, and with the defense in shambles and the rest of the offense lacking consistency, Dallas simply can't compete without him.
So long as taping the finger up and taking a pain-killing shot won't put Bryant at risk of suffering severe, long-term damage (and I'm not sure that increased stiffness makes the cut) Bryant and the team can't afford to throw in the towel. NFL teams think long term far too often in this league. We have no idea what might happen to this team next year or the year after that.
Right now, the Cowboys have hope. Without Bryant, it's gone. Thinking about tomorrow is wonderful, but if Bryant has the option to keep focusing on today, he has to push through.