Dez Bryant vanishes after dazzling start

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For eight minutes Sunday night, Dez Bryant couldn't have been much more spectacular.

Then, for the other 52 minutes of the Dallas Cowboys' season opener, Bryant basically disappeared.

The combination of a bruised quadriceps, cramps and the NFL's best cornerback made the Cowboys' mega-talented young receiver all but invisible. His only memorable moments in the second half of the Cowboys' crushing, come-from-ahead 27-24 loss came when Bryant jogged to the locker room to get an IV and when he was the target of the pick that completed the Dallas' offense's fourth-quarter meltdown and set up the game-deciding field goal.

Tony Romo took all of the blame for the interception, a "dumb decision" which resulted in a pass that hit All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis right between the 2 and the 4 on his jersey. Bryant said he ran the comeback route as he was instructed to do -- a statement backed by Romo -- but there will be miscommunications with a receiver still in the beginner's stage of his development.

The crazy roller coaster of a season opener provided a pretty good illustration of how life will be as Bryant learns on the fly and tries to develop into one of the league's elite playmakers.

There will be flashes of brilliance. There will be moments of frustration. There will never be fear. There will always be fight.

"It was very frustrating," Bryant said after being shut out for the final 52 minutes following a three-catch, 71-yard mini-highlight reel early in the game. "But I'm the type of person that I don't like to give up. I was still out there fighting."

Bryant's toughness can never be doubted. It's amazing, however, that such an impressive physical specimen can be so fragile.

He dealt with all sorts of ailments during an occasionally awe-inspiring but inconsistent rookie season. That list ended, as did his season, with a broken ankle suffered on a Week 12 kickoff return. And now add a bruised quad suffered on a punt return against the Jets, which prompted owner/general manager Jerry Jones to strongly hint that he hoped Bryant's days as a return man were done.

"I'm just saying he's getting hurt on returns," said Jones, who believed the bruised quad played a major role in the Dez disappearing act.

Revis had a little something to do with it, but Bryant wanted it known that the Jets also gave the world's best cover man some safety help.

It took all of one series for Rex Ryan to decide that Bryant, not Miles Austin, needed a reservation on Revis Island.

What a series it was for Bryant. He turned a slant into a 42-yard gain on the game's third snap to put the Cowboys in scoring position. He closed the drive by soaring over Antonio Cromartie for a 3-yard score on a fade route, outmatching a former Pro Bowler who is a freakish athlete in his own right.

There was no back-down in Bryant when Revis got in his face to start the next series. Three plays later, Bryant muscled Revis for position on a back-shoulder strike from Romo for a 26-yard gain.

And that was it for Bryant's production. Five more passes were thrown his way -- four incompletions and an incredibly costly interception.

"It was a great battle," Bryant said of his matchup with Revis, which featured a heated exchange broken up by an official in the second quarter. "I'll be up for that challenge any day."

The coverage on the night's most important play was strong evidence of the respect Ryan and the Jets have for a receiver who is still a few big games away from 1,000 career yards.

Revis had freedom to jump the route because Ryan called "Jet Mike Mix," a zone with a safety over the top. The Jets deemed Bryant too dangerous to leave a corner who prides himself in shutdown man coverage alone on him with the game on the line.

But it ended up being a Bryant/Revis matchup, and the young buck had no chance to make a play on the ball. Four plays later, Nick Folk kicked the winning field goal for the Jets.

"It was our best player against their best player," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "And our best player won."

It's quite a bold statement to call Bryant the best weapon in an offense that features Pro Bowl veterans Romo, Austin and Jason Witten. It's probably too much praise too soon.

What's frightening and fascinating is that Bryant can get so much better. If his health and head don't get in the way, Bryant can be one of the NFL's best.

For now, however, he's the epitome of what Jason Garrett calls a flash player.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.