Insiders

Dez Bryant’s Knee Injury Could Cripple Cowboys’ Offense

on

For the second straight year, only a few weeks into the season, the Dallas Cowboys are looking at spending a large chunk of their season without both their star quarterback and star wide receiver.

Quarterback Tony Romo has been out since the middle of the preseason with a back injury that could keep the veteran signal caller out of action for half the season. The Cowboys have been fortunate, however, that rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, a fourth round pick, has stepped right up and filled in admirably. But the news on Wednesday in Dallas was a little more troubling, as the Cowboys received confirmation that wide receiver Dez Bryant is dealing with a hairline fracture in his knee and could miss several weeks to allow the injury to heal.

Bryant briefly exited Sunday night’s game against the Bears before returning and later catching Prescott’s first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys are holding out hope Bryant can play this Sunday against San Francisco. But now that the extent of the injury is known, it seems likely they’ll take every precaution and keep him sidelined until it heals, to not risk further injury and a more extended absence.

“He did not practice today, and we’re hopeful that he’ll be able to play,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said on a conference call Wednesday. “We’re taking the situation day-by-day. Hopefully, he can do something tomorrow. He has a slight hairline fracture in one of the bones in his knees. We don’t think it’s something that’s going to keep him out for an extended period of time, but it’s going to be a day-by-day, week-by-week situation.”

Bryant suffered the injury on just the second play of Sunday night’s contest, when he made a catch near the sideline and came down awkwardly on the knee with a defender draped around his legs. He limped toward the sideline and collapsed before reaching it, but was able to get up and walk off under his own power and received treatment on the sideline. He then retreated to the locker room and had the knee examined and taped up, but it wasn’t long before he returned to the game and all seemed well. He hauled in a few more passes including the 17-yard touchdown toss from Prescott in the fourth quarter.

But further examination on Sunday night brought about bad news and the Cowboys scheduled an MRI for the star receiver on Monday. Fearing the worst, Bryant skipped the MRI as well as a team meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“He’s an emotional person and didn’t handle it the right way,” Garrett said Thursday.

The Dallas wideout has been fined for those errors in judgment, but while Bryant’s volatile personality has long been a topic of conversation and consternation, the star receiver can probably be excused for not wanting to officially receive the bad news that might come with an MRI on his knee.

Certainly not now, after what he went through last season to get back to health, following what was essentially a lost season for both he and the franchise. During last year’s opener, again on a Sunday night in Dallas, Bryant suffered a broken foot that cost him nearly two months of the season, and even when he returned, Dez was not himself. In eight games following his return from that injury, Bryant never caught more than five passes, went over 100 receiving yards just once and scored just three touchdowns.

With the season out of reach in mid-December, the Cowboys allowed the wideout to shut it down for the year and focus on getting healthy. He did just that. By the middle of the offseason he was reportedly feeling as healthy as he’s ever been, ready to go out and show once again that he’s one of the league’s most talented wide receivers. He flew around the country to work out with Romo and rebuild some of the rapport that has been hindered by both of their injuries. The dynamic Dallas duo that had done so much to boost the team to a 12-4 mark and a playoff run in 2014, was ready to reclaim their roles in Dallas revival this season. Then Romo went down with his latest back ailment and the worm started to turn.

Prescott has done a tremendous job in his first three games, but it was clear from the start that the rookie and his No. 1 wideout still had some kinks to work out in their connection. In Week 1, Bryant caught just one pass on five targets as the Cowboys deployed a mind-boggling offensive gameplan that saw their versatile top flight receiver run mostly fly and go routes. Bryant had much more success in the team’s Week 2 win over Washington. Prescott targeted him 12 times and he hauled in passes for 102 yards. But there was still something missing as the two couldn’t connect in the end zone on a couple attempts at the patented fade pattern that Bryant and Romo have become so excellent at executing.

Then came Sunday night. Prescott wasn’t to blame for Bryant’s injury as the receiver came back for the rookie’s pass and then suffered the injury trying to fight for a first down after the catch as Chicago’s Christian Jones hauled him down awkwardly. Bryant was originally listed as questionable to return but was back on the field before the end of the quarter and played the rest of the game.

It wasn’t until afterward that the Cowboys training staff got a real look at the injury and not until Wednesday, when the star wideout finally agreed to get into a MRI tube, that the injury was officially diagnosed. It’s being described as a hairline fracture of the lateral tibial plateau, an uncommon football injury, but not one doctors would advise a player to play through because of the risk of further injury. For example, if the now less stable knee were to become displaced, it would require surgery that would put Bryant out for the season.

Instead, the Cowboys are said to be looking at about 3-6 weeks without Bryant this time around. It’s still a significant setback for Bryant himself, who dealt with injuries early in his career but had played every game over three seasons from 2012-2014 and established himself as one of the league’s best wide receivers. Dallas paid him handsomely to continue that production, but the soon to be 28-year-old has not been able to live up to that contract due to injuries and now is facing an injury-prone label in the prime of his career after back-t0-back seasons have been marred by significant lower-body injuries.

It’s a setback for the Cowboys, too, especially Prescott, because although the two hadn’t yet established the rapport to get Bryant the targets and receptions he should get for a player of his talent level in the Dallas offense, his mere presence on the field gave opposing defenses a significant talent to account for.

Now the Cowboys are down to the quartet of Brice Butler, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Lucky Whitehead at wideout. Beasley and tight end Jason Witten have been Prescott’s most reliable targets over the first three weeks of the rookie’s career, but the absence of Bryant will allow defenses to focus on taking those security blankets away from Prescott, which could make his job significantly more difficult and present the first real adversity of his young career. How the Cowboys prepare Prescott for the adjustments he’ll have to make without Bryant occupying a significant amount of the defense’s attention in the coming weeks will go a long way toward determining the team’s level of success with Bryant out.

The Cowboys might not thrive in life without Bryant, but they can survive. However, to do that, even more pressure will be put on Prescott to perform and that’s a tough ask of a rookie fourth round pick.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys