When the Cowboys next step on the field, it will be December.
That has been a cruel month to the franchise in recent years, the time when all the good work of the first few months goes down the drain. With the Cowboys, at worst, tied for first place heading into their date with the Cardinals, they can't afford to let that happen again.
One way they can avoid the late-season pitfalls is to make sure that their most talented players are playing the biggest roles possible in the stretch run. They've done that by handing the tailback job to DeMarco Murray, letting Sean Lee play hurt and by rediscovering Jason Witten in the passing game, but they can still go further. One way to do that is to put Dez Bryant back deep every time the opposition is forced into a punt.
Bryant showed why that's a good idea in the fourth quarter on Thanksgiving. He caught the punt at the 15 and then danced his way 20 yards up the field to ensure the Cowboys didn't have far to go to get Dan Bailey a shot at the game-winning field goal. It looked for a moment like Bryant might break it all the way, but he got the yards the team needed simply because he has the athletic ability to make something out of nothing.
The Cowboys weren't wrong to limit Bryant's exposure on kicks after he hurt himself in Week One against the Jets. The slow recovery time from that thigh injury meant that Bryant had to work less in order to be worth anything to the Cowboys.
That time has passed. Bryant has been healthy and active for quite some time now and that means he should be given as much to do as possible. He should be a big target in the passing game, of course, and he should be getting the ball on punts because there's no one else on the team with his potential to flip fields and grab points on special teams.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah has done a nice enough job returning punts, including a 21-yarder of his own on Thursday. He isn't Bryant, though. He doesn't have the same talent and, therefore, doesn't strike the same fear into the hearts of opposing teams. That fear can lead to bad punts, shanks and other things that give the Cowboys yardage their offense can turn into points.
Might Bryant get hurt again? Sure, but that can happen at any point in any game. The only reason not to use Bryant is fear and you can't coach scared when you're trying to win a division.