He can be a headache at times. But what a glorious headache he can be.
Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant did it again Sunday night, showing why the Cowboys have hugged him, coddled him, given him so many chances. Bryant took over at times during the Cowboys’ 38-33 win over the Eagles, with six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. The scores came at crucial junctures, when the Cowboys were desperate for someone to make a play.
That’s the best time for a playmaker to make them.
A win over a bad team is no reason to celebrate too much. The Eagles have now lost eight in a row to fall to 3-9. And the Cowboys themselves are 6-6. (Watch game highlights here.)
But the way Bryant has begun to dominate opponents is amazing. There were moments against a well-paid, if not good, Eagles secondary when it simply was not fair. But that’s been happening more and more often, as his physical gifts have been augmented by what appears to be knowledge of the game, and more polished routes.
Over the last four games, Bryant has 29 catches for 475 yards and six touchdowns. That’s the kind of production that will make a team make special rules, and make them glad to have to.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Nick Foles may or may not be the Eagles quarterback of the future.
But he’s at least getting better, in a bad situation, and that’s a good sign.
Foles looks like a different guy than the one who made a mess of things against the Redskins, or stepped back out of the way and watched Bryce Brown run against the Panthers.
He has the ability to make throws from the pocket and on the move, and it would be interesting to see him in a good situation (i.e. with starting receivers and a real offensive line).
He’s not going to get that opportunity this year, but he might show enough to make them give him a chance.
2. It is very difficult, and sometimes unfair, to judge individual parts of a bad team when so many things have gone so poorly.
That said, Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha might be the biggest mystery in the league.
It is no longer a question of whether he’s worth the money. He’s not. The Eagles got sucked into the trap of paying for past performance. If you want to make a splash and sign big free agent names, that’s going to happen sometimes.
But he doesn’t look remotely like the same player who could shut down half a field in Oakland. If you peeled the names and numbers off the backs of jerseys, you’d never say, “Yes, that one, let’s give him a pile of money.”
3. That said, the Eagles’ safeties are horrible.
It’s unclear if they’re simply not talented enough to play in the NFL, or are so poorly coached they’ve been rendered useless, or both.
But after watching Panthers backup tight end Gary Barnidge torch them last week, an actual player like Cowboys star Jason Witten was bound to get in the highlight reel.
4. The Cowboys are simply a different team with running back DeMarco Murray on the field.
That’s easy to say when they’re last in the league in rushing and get their best runner back on the field.
But Murray runs differently than anyone else they have, and that makes every part of their offense better.
He gains the yards, but he also creates space for the guys on the edges, and can make an opposing defense pause a beat before coming straight at Tony Romo.
The Cowboys quarterback is a different player when he has a moment, and Murray can help buy him a few.
5. The Eagles releasing defensive end Jason Babin was viewed as a white-flag move by some, clearing the books of a big number in a season gone awry.
But Brandon Graham, who replaced him in the starting lineup, had 1.5 sacks in the first half, and showed good burst.
When you’re faced with inevitable change, it makes sense to look at all the young parts you can.
Graham looks like the kind of player the next administration will enjoy, provided they run a system he fits into.