The Dallas Cowboys desperately needed a win over the Chicago Bears. Instead, they just became more desperate to figure out what has gone wrong this season after dropping another hugely disappointing game 31-24. And it wasn’t as close as the score looks, with a meaningless touchdown with only 4:29 left in the game and a field goal with only eight seconds on the clock reducing the margin of loss. That field goal was to set up an onside kick, and the desperation move predictably failed, which was in tune with the overall performance.
This game had a depressing sense of deja vu. The Cowboys received the ball (after winning the toss) and had a very strong drive, going 75 yards after the touchback to cap it off with a two yard Ezekiel Elliott run. Dak Prescott made some key throws, and Blake Jarwin had a couple of catches to extend drives as Dallas was four for four on third downs during the drive. But the wheels promptly came off, as the Cowboys would have two three and outs before Brett Maher missed a 42 yard field goal attempt after the offense finally showed some life, including Elliott’s longest run of the season for 31 yards. Meanwhile, the defense was just horrible, repeatedly letting Mitchell Trubisky keep drives alive with his legs as well as making a lot of very good throws. When he wasn’t moving the ball, the Bears running backs were, and once again the tackling was atrocious, with plays that could have been stopped getting the yards needed to move the sticks. Chicago put up 17 unanswered points before halftime, and would have the ball first after the intermission.
Things got no better for the Cowboys, as Chicago marched right down the field, including another play where three Dallas defenders had a shot to stop Cordarrelle Patterson short of the sticks, but just whiffed to let him get 33 yards. A defensive holding call on third down in the red zone would set Chicago up to push the lead to 24-7, and the rout was on. It would have been even worse had Jourdan Lewis not made a great interception on the one yard line to keep the Bears from scoring on their first possession of the game, but the Cowboys could do nothing with it and saw the Bears get their first touchdown after the punt gave Chicago great field position at their own 49.
This Cowboys team didn’t just get beaten. It is beaten. Prescott was off on just about all his throws, even when he completed them. Nothing really worked offensively once they got past the opening script. The defense made another shaky quarterback look like an All-Pro. And the special teams let the Bears improve their field position on punts while doing little to help when the ball was coming to them, with Brett Maher contributing both the missed field goal and putting the kickoff after the Cowboys’ second touchdown out of bounds to help the Bears.
It was truly a team effort in the worst way. This is the second time in a row when the Cowboys needed to put their best effort on the field to get this season back on track, and for the second time they looked like they shouldn’t even have six wins. The sidelines looked shell-shocked. One camera shot of Sean Lee was absolutely telling, as he looked like a man who had no answers or ideas. It was fitting, as the defense almost never was able to get off the field.
The way this team has now put a very strong drive on the field to start a game only to totally come apart the rest of the way is nothing short of sickening. After those four third down conversions to start things, the Cowboys would not convert another in the first quarter. Or the second. Or the third. Not until there was only 5:20 left in the game would they convert again, and by then, it was academic.
The entire game plan seemed questionable, as once again Dallas was busy establishing the run, despite the fact that Tony Pollard was out, and they only elected to carry Elliott and fullback Jamize Olawale for the game. The Bears largely shut out Amari Cooper. When the Cowboys did try to get a little creative with the play calling, nothing clicked, like the play where Olawale was the lone back and Prescott had him open for a first down, but the little-used back didn’t even turn back to look for the ball until it was already bouncing on the ground. Prescott was run down from behind by Kahlil Mack to stop another third down play. Chicago also seemed to be attacking Jaylon Smith, and it largely worked.
The Cowboys won the turnover battle, as they stripped the ball from David Montgomery with under three minutes left in the third quarter to go with the Lewis pick. It finally game them a short field as it was recovered at their own 46. They had to get a fourth down conversion to keep from going three and out, and finally regained a little offensive life to drive it in for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter - but it took another fourth down conversion to get the TD and cut the lead down to 10. Ultimately, winning the turnover battle was just as meaningless as the Cowboys’ fourth quarter scores.
It was rendered pointless as the Bears drove quickly down the field to answer with their fourth TD, aided by that bad kickoff by Maher.
One thing the Cowboys couldn’t complain about was the officiating, as there were at least two missed facemask penalties that were not called on them, one of which came on the same play that they benefited from a very ticky-tack block in the back penalty. And Matt Nagy argued strongly, and not without justification, that the Montgomery fumble should have been ruled dead as his progress was largely stopped, but the runner kept fighting and the refs didn’t see it that way. However, the Cowboys made plenty of obvious infractions that were called, often keeping Chicago drives alive, including the devastating counterpunch drive to squelch any hopes early in the fourth quarter.
An emerging story before the game was that the seat under Jason Garrett was not as hot as most have assumed of late, but after this game, it is hard to give that much credit. This was an unprepared and remarkably incapable Dallas team. It is impossible to see any real alternative to clearing out the coaching staff. If Jerry Jones doesn’t see it that way, there is no rational explanation any more. This team is in a death spiral at this point. They may still stumble into the playoffs, but this game was just more evidence that they don’t belong there.
The staff should probably be making some brutal player decisions as well. Given the large role Jerry and Stephen Jones play in constructing the roster, it is hard to imaging them blowing things up to any extent, but that is something that should at least be considered. Something is clearly wrong with this roster. At this point, it is more like many things.
How bad is it? After the loss to the Buffalo Bills, it seemed that the team had bottomed out. Either we were wrong about that, or they simply landed there and didn’t get up. The game certainly was markedly similar in how it progressed. Ironically, in a performance that was so bad, Elliott passed the 1,000 yard rushing mark, and Cooper went over 1,000 catching. What should have been significant milestones were rendered totally hollow by the continued disintegration of the season.
It is going to be grim this week, despite the fact that Dallas will, at worst, still be tied for the lead of the NFC East, also known as the division no one wants to win.