How bad was the Dallas Cowboys loss to the Chicago Bears? Bad enough to sit Tony Romo at the end of the game and give Kyle Orton some snaps in garbage time. Bad enough that 100 yard receiving games by both Jason Witten and Dez Bryant were utterly wasted. Bad enough that 430 yards of total offense was totally meaningless. Bad enough that . . .
Well, just say it was terribly, horribly bad. A five-interception mess that gave the Chicago defense 14 points on interception returns, which was almost enough to beat the Cowboys offense by itself.
Dallas has its bye week coming up, and needs to get a lot figured out. The defense, that had been the strength of the team, finally gave up two touchdowns to a wide receiver, in this case Brandon Marshall, who showed that Brandon Carr is not unbeatable, and Devin Hester, who showed that Morris Claiborne is still a rookie.
While there were many moments that seriously wounded the Cowboys, the most damaging probably happened in the third quarter. Down 17-7, Romo was intercepted, but the defense, led by DeMarcus Ware, stripped the ball from Jay Cutler and Dallas had the ball at the Chicago 27 yard line with an excellent chance to score and regain the momentum.
But on the ensuing play, Romo was hit and the ball came out. It was called an interception, but the important part is that Lance Briggs took it 74 yards. Chicago had a 24-7 lead, and it was all but over for the Cowboys.
It is going to be a challenge for the team to recover from this mess. They have a week off, but then they have to travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens, and that is hardly going to be an easy game to come back in. The defense certainly can use the week to get healthier. Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and Kenyon Coleman should all be back, and the team certainly needs them.
Another issue is that Mackenzy Bernadeau looked very bad. This led to pressure on Romo, and contributed to a pitiful 41 yards rushing. With the offense reduced to one dimension, the Bears were able to focus on their pass defense, and the harvest of turnovers that killed the Cowboys.
That inability to run the ball is a serious and ongoing problem, with the team now having been unable to gain anything on the ground in the last three games. This is the exact opposite of what Dallas is trying to do this season. Once again, the weakness of the offensive line is proving to be fatal. And there is no obvious solution for Bernadeau. David Arkin certainly does not inspire any confidence.
While there is still three quarters of a season ahead, making a success of this season is now a daunting challenge. Jason Garrett is going to have to try to find a way to get this team off its backside and fighting to win. At this point, 8-8 looks like it will take a major turnaround. The mistakes that are killing the Cowboys are coming from all over the team.
Dez Bryant was one of the surest handed receivers in the NFL last season, but he had multiple drops against Chicago and was possibly at fault on the Charles Tillman interception for a touchdown in the second quarter. The offensive line, while having some improvement (they only gave up one sack), still seems to have a new issue every week.
It may be that the Cowboys had far more rebuilding to do when Garrett took over than most of us realized. While the defense now seems to be on the upswing, the offensive line problems may need another off-season to correct - and with the salary cap limitations the team faces, it may not be all that easy to manage.
Last week, offensive line coach Bill Callahan said he wasn't going to sugarcoat things. This week, that is likely to be the theme for much more than just his area of responsibility. It is going to be a long two weeks. And the rest of the season may be much longer.