- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DETROIT -- It’s not always pretty, but passion is part of the package with Dez Bryant.
And it was far from the Dallas Cowboys’ biggest problem Sunday afternoon at Ford Field. In fact, Bryant’s sideline outbursts had nothing to do with the fact that the Cowboys went home with a 4-4 record after a gut-wrenching 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions.
That won’t stop the debate from raging all week about whether Bryant is another diva receiver. It’s an easy but inaccurate assumption to make.
Bryant’s sideline outbursts, separate shouting matches with Tony Romo and Jason Witten, certainly looked ugly. They definitely qualify as bad PR and proof that Bryant’s maturation process is far from finished.
But calling Bryant’s sideline behavior a serious problem for the Cowboys? Please. Stop the drama. And don't even start the T.O. comparisons.
All had been forgiven by the time the cooling-off period before the media is allowed in the locker room had passed. That’s because Bryant’s bosses and teammates know that his passion is pure. They know there is nothing remotely malicious about his motivation.
“It’s all about winning,” Bryant said. “I promise that.”
Bryant, a 24-year-old man who has done a lot of growing up during his four NFL seasons and still has plenty left to do, doesn’t just want to win. He’s absolutely obsessed with winning, something that earns Bryant respect from veterans such as Romo and Witten, both of whom he has repeatedly credited for helping him overcome his tragically dysfunctional background and develop into an elite receiver.
“I love that kid like a brother,” Witten told reporters. “There are no hard feelings. DeMarcus [Ware] and I talked to him. He’s a great receiver and plays his tail off week in and week out. It’s as simple as that. It’s a disappointing loss. Dez is a guy who plays with his heart. We all do. Those things come up.”
You wish those things wouldn’t come up in such spectacularly cringe-worthy fashion. Bryant’s sideline temper tantrums Sunday were childish, but they were rooted in a competitive nature that the Cowboys love.
The Cowboys will continue to work with Bryant on properly channeling his passion, but they’re more than willing to deal with a little drama from a freakish talent determined to do everything in his power to end Dallas’ playoff drought.
“That’s emotion, and I don’t place any issue on his demeanor or his sideline activity,” Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. “He’s a very emotional player and this was a tough game for him to compete in because he wanted to really contribute and do everything he could for the team and to win. I have no issue at all in terms of criticizing him for sideline demeanor or sideline behavior.”
Notice that Bryant didn’t do any complaining after his four-catch, 22-yard performance in the season opener. He praised his teammates and talked about being patient after the Cowboys’ win over the New York Giants.
And you will never hear Bryant utter a bad word or even hint at anything negative about Romo, a quarterback he reveres and essentially considers to be an authority figure.
Why did Bryant go off on Romo with the Cowboys up six points Sunday afternoon? He feared the game was slipping away and was frustrated that he wasn’t being given opportunities to do something about it.
Bryant was vague about the details of that discussion, and Romo claimed that it wasn’t about No. 88 demanding the ball. That’s a bunch of bull, but Romo’s point about Bryant not being a “me guy” is right on.
Bryant plays with a belief that he’s the baddest man in the building -- yes, even when the magnificent Megatron is in the midst of a historically dominant performance -- and craves opportunities to prove it while helping his team win.
Frankly, Bryant didn’t get enough opportunities Sunday. There’s no good reason for him to have to wait until there are 51 seconds remaining in the first half before Romo throws a pass in his direction. He should never be targeted only six times, three of which he caught for 72 yards and two spectacular touchdowns.
“He gets a lot of attention from the opposing defenses and he wanted the football,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “And we want guys who want the football. Dez has never been a distraction to our football team. He is a really positive asset to our team, on the field and off. The way he works, his passion for the ballgame -- that’s good stuff. He’s competitive. He wants it. He wants to make a difference in the game.”
If you’re going to bark on the sideline, you'd better produce when the ball comes your way.
As far as that goes, Bryant held up his end of the bargain. Midway through the fourth quarter, Bryant caught a deep out, made a safety miss and sprinted down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown that should have sealed Dallas’ victory.
Alas, the Cowboys managed to blow a 10-point lead in the final 6:45, leading to Bryant’s passion boiling over and a confrontation with Witten after the Lions’ go-ahead score with 12 seconds remaining.
“He just wanted me to calm down a little bit,” Bryant said. “Y’all saw what happened. They scored at the end of the game. I’m like, who wouldn’t be pissed? Who wouldn’t?”
Who wouldn’t? Someone who didn’t care passionately about winning. There’s no doubt about how much Bryant cares.
There are better ways for Bryant to express his passion, but as far as the Cowboys’ concerns go, that doesn’t even make the first page of the list.