Bryant caught eight passes for 105 yards in that loss to the Bears last season, but the numbers lie in this case. It was a miserable game for Bryant, marred by drops and mental mistakes. The most memorable moment from that Monday night was his blown route adjustment that resulted in a pick-six by Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman, who fooled Bryant into running a go instead of a slant by bailing out of a press look just before the snap.
That poor performance provided plenty of ammunition to the Dez doubters, a growing army of outsiders who questioned whether Bryant would ever make the mental strides necessary to take advantage of his immense physical gifts. It gave quarterback Tony Romo no reason to trust his most talented receiver.
It turned out to be a critical turning point for Bryant’s career.
"I had to get on top of my s---," Bryant said Thursday, days before he faces a Bears defense missing the injured Tillman. "That’s what I had to do.
"Obviously, there were some things on there that I had to clean up, sharpen up on my end, so me and 9 can be on the same page. That’s when all that trust issue stuff played a big factor. Tony needed to believe in me, and I needed to do my job to where he could do that."
Bryant said his pride wasn’t bruised by his bad night against the Bears, but it made him realize he needed to become a better professional.
This wasn’t about punctuality, an issue for Bryant earlier in his career. It was about making a commitment to firmly understanding all of his assignments and the many potential adjustments based on the defensive schemes, which meant changing the way Bryant interacted with coaches and teammates in the meeting room.
"Not that I never took my job seriously, but I paid more attention in meetings, asked more questions," Bryant said. "That’s one thing, I felt like I can’t get up and speak to a crowd or whatever, but I got out of that. I needed to open up my mouth and ask more questions. ‘What do I do if this guy comes? What do I do if this guy comes?’
"I knew the simple stuff, but as the season went on a little bit more, we were going to start to see some funny stuff. I needed to know everything, and I got it down."
Bryant emerged as an elite receiver in the second half of last season, finishing the year ranked sixth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,382) and third in touchdown catches (12). Bryant’s numbers (896 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games) aren’t quite as impressive this season, but there’s no question about whether Romo trusts him or if he’s a long-term foundation piece for the Cowboys.
Maybe Bryant would have developed into a legitimate No. 1 receiver without his bad night against the Bears, but he benefited from that kick in the butt.
"You can either feel bad, feel sorry for yourself," Bryant said, "or get your stuff together and be the person that you think you can become."