A consensus emerged over the course of the season that Dez Bryant figured it out. A gaggle of critics who once questioned the Cowboys receiver spoke glowingly about how he had finally grown into his immense potential.

Maybe he has. But the next six months will provide a more accurate gauge of where the needle rests on the Dez Bryant maturity scale.

Ask another receiver who wore the No. 88 for the Cowboys. This Hall of Famer will tell you that losing the daily structure and discipline of the regular season can be a minefield for a young star.

"It's the most critical time," Michael Irvin said. "I remember my younger days, Jerry [Jones] would say to me, 'We've got to keep you busy, Michael. As long as we keep you busy, we're good.'

"I didn't understand it until later on, when I became a spiritual man. The bible says an idle mind becomes the devil's workshop. I was like, 'That is who was in my mind all of the time. It was the devil.'"

The noise that surrounds Bryant's life always seems to crescendo during the off-season. The incident with his mother, an alleged altercation at a Miami club, dress-code issues at the mall, all arose when the Cowboys' season was long over.

Bryant's performance was inconsistent to start the 2012 season. But he gathered a sense of purpose and peace as it progressed.

"Everything that I've been through and experienced is all behind me," Bryant said in the days leading up to the team's Thanksgiving Day game. "I could care less about it. I love football. That's my main goal."

Irvin is close with T.D. Jakes, the bishop/chief pastor of The Potter's House, a Dallas church with a congregation of more than 30,000.

"The bishop always says to me, 'Let's celebrate some of these small accomplishments, because if you celebrate enough small accomplishments, when you look back, you'll have a great journey,'" Irvin said.