Bryant’s antics are the least of the problems for Dallas with a defense facing more injury issues after allowing a last-second touchdown and the most yards in franchise history in Detroit’s 31-30 win over the Cowboys.
The offense is sputtering, too, after consecutive hit-and-miss games without brittle running back DeMarco Murray, who is likely to return Sunday against Minnesota.
“When you put your guts out there for three hours, collectively, sometimes it’s hard to swallow those kinds of defeats,” coach Jason Garrett said. “What we need to do as a football team is learn from what just happened and find a way, in all three phases, to win this kind of game, and do what we need to do to win the game. They did that and we didn’t and we have to live with that, but we have to learn from it.”
Bryant first lost his cool by interrupting a sideline chat between Tony Romo and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, with Garrett and receivers coach Derek Dooley trying unsuccessfully to be peacemakers.
It didn’t seem to bother the offense because Dallas went on to score consecutive touchdowns on a 60-yard throw to Terrance Williams and a 50-yarder to Bryant.
The Bryant-Witten spat came with 12 seconds left and the offense waiting to go back on the field after Detroit’s go-ahead score, apparently a product of the frustration of the Cowboys letting a win get away so late. Witten told reporters after the game he “loved that kid like a brother.”
Dallas owner Jerry Jones was over it, too.
“It’s not an issue,” Jones said. “I’m not trying to make light of it. But he’s a very passionate player and he competes and works and does all the things that gives him the collateral to use with his teammates and with me relative to a few awkward moments on the sideline. He’s bought enough slack with me.”
Tyron Smith’s critical holding penalty when the Cowboys were trying to milk the clock for a field goal gave the Lions just enough time to go 80 yards in less than a minute without a timeout for Matt Stafford’s winning 1-yard lunge.
Stafford got in that position by hitting two long passes in front of rookie safety Jakar Hamilton, brought up from the practice squad the day before the game. He was playing because Barry Church was out with a hamstring issue. Jeff Heath, another undrafted rookie free agent, started at the other safety spot after J.J. Wilcox injured his right knee in practice.
Jones said cornerback Morris Claiborne could have a hamstring injury more serious than Church’s, and Brandon Carr has to bounce back from being the primary victim in Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson’s 329-yard day — the second best in league history.
The Cowboys gave up 623 yards, surpassing the previous record of 583 by the Houston Oilers in 1991 and spoiling a four-takeaway day that included two interceptions by Sean Lee.
Dallas let Detroit become the first team since New England in 2007 to win a game with four turnovers and no takeaways, according to STATS.
“We started the game strong but we didn’t finish it strong,” Lee said. “At the end of the game we had a chance to win and we give up a bunch of big plays. It is just unacceptable.”
The fourth-quarter touchdowns to Williams and Bryant made it easy to forget that the Cowboys had just 62 yards rushing and 268 total. Or that Romo completed less than 50 percent of his passes for the first time since 2009.
What seems clear after two weeks without Murray is that the Dallas offense will need him to get back for the unit to perform the way it did when Romo set a franchise record with 506 yards passing in a 51-48 loss to Denver.
Joseph Randle is averaging 2.5 yards per carry as the starter in Murray’s place, and the Cowboys have a history of struggling in the running game without Murray, who has missed 11 games in three seasons.
Even if Murray returns as expected from a sprained left knee sustained against Washington three weeks ago, the Cowboys have a huge task trying to put this loss behind them.
“We can’t have a hang-up,” Romo said. “That’s the issue with some of these games. You have to be able to let them go. It’s going to be hard right now, just because it feels the way it does, but our team’s mentally tough and we have to come back and show that.”
Their mental toughness won’t get a much tougher test than this.
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