IRVING, Texas — Tony Romo says defensive coverages are to blame for Dez Bryant catching only two passes after halftime this season.
Cowboys receivers coach Jimmy Robinson says it's a fluke, not a conspiracy.
As for Bryant, he'd rather not talk about any of it.
The less of an impact Bryant makes, the more of a story it becomes. This is an incredibly talented second-year receiver who was supposed to be a major weapon in the Dallas offense, and he's become invisible in the third and fourth quarters.
His lack of production — and lack of opportunities during crunch time — stand out even more considering every Cowboys game this season has been decided in the closing minutes. They are 2-3, with every loss by four points or less, and Bryant didn't catch a pass in the second half of any of those games.
Seems strange, doesn't it, that a big, strong, fast receiver would just be forgotten with the game on the line?
Romo offered up several theories Thursday, starting with the notion that "coverage dictates where the ball goes."
"Sometimes he's going to catch 10 balls in a row, then they can take him away for 10 passes," Romo said.
Then Romo explained there are plays where he has to choose whether to throw to Bryant or his other key weapons, proven performers Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Romo again called it happenstance where the ball ends up going.
"Sometimes it's the guy who is closest, sometimes it's the matchup with the defensive back who is guarding him," Romo said.
Why not just make a conscious effort to get the ball to No. 88, just to see what he could do?
"Once you start trying to pick out (receivers), you're going to get in trouble," Romo said.
The questions are coming faster this week because Dallas has lost two straight.
In the latest loss, the Cowboys failed to get touchdowns on two second-half drives deep in New England territory. Romo said there were almost always two defensive backs around Bryant, and he didn't want to just throw it up and hope Bryant came down with it.
"Theoretically, yeah, you could throw it, but there's a very high percentage that it's not going to turn out very well if you throw it," Romo said. "If they keep a safety over there, they get to play two-on-one."
Bryant has a history of being late to meetings and has long been questioned about how well he knows the playbook. Those are the kinds of thing that could make a quarterback lose faith in a receiver being where he's supposed to be — and, thus, not want to throw him the ball with the game on the line.
Romo, however, was full of praise for Bryant.
"It's not anything that he's doing," Romo said. "He's doing a great job. He continues to get better as a player. You can see at different times he shows flashes where he's got a lot of ability. He's going to continue to grow and get better."
Robinson works with Bryant the most, and says the youngster "stays focused most of the time," adding that most people are like that.
"I'm not going to stand here and say everything is perfect and everything is done right all of the time, but the high percentage of the time he's doing what he's supposed to be doing," Robinson said. "Dez is a diligent young man. You may not know him as well as I do, he's a guy who is serious about what he's doing. He wants to do it right and he's trying to do it right all the time. He's like anybody, he falls short at times and we correct it and move on."
Robinson has been a receivers coach for decades, so he's seen these kinds of spurts before. His last job was with the Packers, just last season, so he knows how easy it is for a player to get lost in the shuffle of a deep stable, even someone as gifted as Bryant.
To Robinson, this second-half skid for Bryant is just one of those things that happens.
"If you're a receiver in the NFL, you realize sometimes it rains, sometimes it pours and sometimes it's a drought," Robinson said. "There is nothing intentional. Believe me, we'd like to get the ball to him."
Bryant has caught eight passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in first quarters, and he has four catches for another 58 yards and a touchdown in second quarters. In second halves, he's been targeted 10 times. Both catches came against Washington and they had the desired result — gains of 20 and 30 yards.
"Hopefully this week he'll get some more opportunities," Robinson said. "But again, we may be talking about this again next week."
Notes: LB DeMarcus Ware returned to practice after a day off to rest his back. He was listed as limited. ... Romo said he will continue wearing a vest to protect his ribs for several more weeks but he hopes this will be the last week he needs to take a painkilling injection before the game.
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