Cowboys' loss to Bears will linger
After bye week, tough stretch awaits team struggling to find consistency, identity
It wasn't even a month ago, but after an embarrassing 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday, the Cowboys find themselves having to chase the season in the same way they had to last year.
With the Cowboys Stadium roof open under a clear night, Tony Romo was intercepted five times and had two of those picks returned for touchdowns.
Almost a year ago to the day, the Cowboys found themselves chasing the season after a 34-30 loss to Detroit and never recovered, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs. The Cowboys blew a 27-3 lead that day and Romo had two interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Lions to kick-start Detroit's comeback.
And like that Lions game, Monday's loss leads into the Cowboys' bye week.
"You don't need this as a wake-up," tight end Jason Witten said. "We knew what this game meant."
A win meant 3-1, progress, a potential wild-card tiebreaker down the road and a sense of accomplishment through the first quarter of the season. A loss means 2-2, inconsistency, the loss of a wild-card tiebreaker down the road and a sense of befuddlement with a first-team offense that has totaled three touchdowns in the last three games.
Now the Cowboys have to wait until Oct. 14 to play again, and they will have only one day of practice this week thanks to NFL rules. After Wednesday's workout, they will be off from Thursday to Sunday.
"You like to, after a game like this, get right back at it," coach Jason Garrett said. "You'd like to play the next day to get the taste out of your mouth, but there's a lot to learn from this ballgame. We just have to do that collectively as a team."
When the schedule came out in April, the five-week stretch after the bye was viewed as the Cowboys' toughest.
At Baltimore. At Carolina. Home against the Giants. At Atlanta. At Philadelphia.
Those teams are a combined 13-7 so far this season.
The Ravens have won 13 straight regular-season games at home. Carolina might be the easiest of the games, but Cam Newton will present problems. The Giants are 3-0 at Cowboys Stadium. Atlanta is one of three undefeated teams in the league, and Matt Ryan is virtually unbeatable in the Georgia Dome. Beating the Eagles is never easy at Lincoln Financial Field.
How about them apples?
That's why Monday's result might mean more than just one loss in a 16-week season. Now the Cowboys have to find another win along the way that many would have penciled in as a loss at the start of the season.
"We're focusing on team to team," linebacker Sean Lee said. "We know going on the road, it's hard especially against some of the good teams we're playing. We've got to find a way to focus team to team and try to get some wins out of that."
Maybe the bye comes at a good time. The Cowboys were without three defensive starters -- Jay Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman and Anthony Spencer -- against the Bears and lost inside linebacker Bruce Carter for most of the first half with a hip injury.
The offense could use the time to figure out what in the world has happened to a disappearing running game and far too many turnovers. Center Phil Costa should be healthy enough to return, but does that cure poor pass protection and a lack of holes?
"All I know is we've got a long way to go, but this isn't the way I want to get started," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "Nobody does. Nobody in this dressing room does. And I'm glad we've got the time off that we've got. It will give us a chance to reassess, look in the mirror, let our coaching staff do it. As it would turn out after tonight, this was a very timely bye for us."
Similar comments were made last October after the loss to the Lions. But the Cowboys were nothing more than average in 2011 in beating one team that finished with a winning record last year. And the 2-2 start to this season has the looks of another average season.
"You can't bounce back and forth like this and try to compete in December," Witten said. "You can't do it. We've been in that situation before. You cannot do it and we know that. We'll get better."