Whitt (@richiewhitt) December 10, 2012
Worth noting: Dez Bryant's TD catch came after he injured his finger. If he won't injure it further, he will almost certainly continue— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 10, 2012
What we know for sure is that Dallas has become extremely reliant on Bryant's playmaking ability. Over the last five games (four of which have been wins) Bryant has 33 catches for 525 yards and seven touchdowns.
QB Tony Romo has always been able to rely on players like tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Miles Austin, but the turnaround of Bryant has benefited all parties involved. Bryant's vertical speed opens up underneath routes for Witten and draws coverage and attention away from Austin.
Dallas has failed to develop a consistent rushing game all season, seeing just one game with a 100-yard rusher, but Bryant's play has helped neutralize the need for a quality ground attack. Romo has been able to spread the ball to his plethora of receiving options and keep defenses off balance by hitting passes of varying lengths.
How can the Cowboys hope to move into playoff positioning without their hottest player and most dynamic target? Dallas is already a game behind the 8-5 Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card race. The 8-5 New York Giants have a similar one-game lead over Dallas in the NFC East divisional picture.
Can a Bryant-less Cowboys team be expected to win games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins in the remaining three weeks? Dallas clearly has enough talent even without Bryant to be competitive, but this is not a team that is prepared to elevate its play without Bryant.
The Giants and Seahawks are both in better positions to make the postseason even if Bryant turns out to be healthy, but if he is sidelined the Cowboys have almost no chance. Not to mention the fact that the Redskins are also 7-6 and have won four games in a row.
So, while teams around them are just hitting their respective stride, Dallas has run into a serious speed bump. In order to overcome the loss of an injured Bryant, the Cowboys will need someone not named Austin or Witten to step up in the receiving game and also get notable production out of the backfield.
WR Kevin Ogletree has shown flashes of brilliance, but he disappears far too often and only has 390 receiving yards on the season. RB DeMarco Murray has elite ability, but injuries have plagued him all season and prevented him from living up to his potential.
In other words, expecting others to emerge in a world without Bryant is a tall order and would have to be considered surprising.
Dallas' road to the playoffs would be a difficult one with No. 88 in the lineup, but without him this team would unfortunately be doomed.