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Bryant looks strong a year after catch that wasn't

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)

(Eds: With AP Photos.)By SCHUYLER DIXONAP Sports Writer

Dez Bryant still thinks about his miracle catch that wasn't against the New York Giants last season.

The Dallas receiver can see the tips of his fingers landing out of bounds on Tony Romo's desperation pass that looked as if it would give the Cowboys their first win over the Giants in their fancy $1.2 billion stadium. Instead, replay turned it into just another disappointment in just another loss.

''It's out the window now,'' Bryant said. ''Like I said, it's all about Sunday. It's all about this upcoming game.''

There's talk of Bryant as an MVP candidate with the Cowboys set to open 2013 against the Giants at home. Such talk has its roots in all the exhilaration and exasperation tied into that one play because Bryant bounced back to become one of the most productive receivers in the league in a second half that defined his breakout season.

''I honestly felt like you've got to make up for that,'' said Bryant, who had 879 of his 1,382 yards and 10 of his 12 touchdowns in the final eight games. ''I started just understanding everything better. That's what's been going on this whole year as well.''

There was something else about that Giants game a year ago that bothered Bryant. He acknowledged running an imprecise route and costing Romo an interception that helped dig a 23-0 hole in a 29-24 loss. The Cowboys actually led 24-23 before two late field goals by New York.

''I think that could have been a game that could have jump-started just the whole light bulb going on, confidence,'' said cornerback Brandon Carr. ''He realized just the effect that he can have on a game, just the ability that he has over other defenders out there and once the guy sees that in himself and his confidence is up there, the sky's the limit.''

Carr certainly sees that ability up close in practice because he's often battling Bryant in team drills. There were plenty of moments in training camp when Carr was right with him, and Bryant simply jumped over the Cowboys' $50 million cornerback to make the catch.

The preseason just looked like a continuation of Bryant's standout second half, and there's significance in that, too. It means Bryant made it through the offseason without any problems a year after the most serious of several off-the-field issues when he faced a family violence charge over an incident with his mother.

From the first day of camp, Bryant played like he was ramping up for the Super Bowl. In fact, one of the things his coaches have to do is make sure Bryant doesn't get too hyped too early.

''I'm kind of amped up now,'' Bryant said Thursday. ''I'm trying to watch my words, to be honest. I just love the game, man. I remember last year, sometimes I used to go so hard before the game that I'm in a full sweat. I know some of the coaches didn't like that. I had to tone it down a little bit.''

Bryant had a career high in yards receiving three times in the last seven games of 2012, capped by a 224-yard game against New Orleans two weeks after he broke a finger against Cincinnati and returned from the injury to catch a critical touchdown in a come-from-behind win over the Bengals.

Bryant practically begged coach Jason Garrett not to put him on season-ending injured reserve after the Cincinnati game, and spent a night in the hospital when he returned from a season-ending loss at Washington that kept Dallas out of the playoffs. It was the second straight year the Cowboys lost to an NFC East rival with a playoff berth on the line.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett likes to say Bryant has been productive since his rookie year, so he's less inclined to view last year's game against the Giants - and the near-miracle that went with it - as a tipping point in the fourth-year receiver's career. But it was a notable moment, even in Garrett's eyes.

''Made an outstanding play on that, gave us a chance to win, and it's a great illustration that it is a game of inches and every inch counts and unfortunately that didn't go out way,'' Garrett said. ''But Dez is a mentally tough guy, he's a physically tough guy, he's competed a lot throughout his career and he knows how to respond. He certainly responded in that game and responded over the course of the rest of the season.''

Now Bryant gets a chance for a fast start in the opener against the same team in the same stadium.

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AP NFL site: http://pro32.ap.org/

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Tagged: Cowboys, Giants, Brandon Carr, Dez Bryant

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