ARLINGTON, Texas -- A week after Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett fought over who should take the blame for a bone-headed play call, they made it easier for all of us Sunday. Both coaches flopped in the Cowboys' 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears, but it was Phillips' vaunted defense that took the biggest fall.
This defense hadn't allowed a touchdown in three consecutive regular-season games, but Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz seems to have the Cowboys' number. He was the architect of a game plan that baffled the Cowboys late in the 2006 season and nudged Bill Parcells toward another retirement. Lions quarterback Jon Kitna, now the Cowboys' backup, would famously say that linebacker Bradie James appeared completely lost in that game.
Early in Sunday's game, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was running for his life as outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer raced past offensive tackles. To make matters worse, the Bears lost starting left tackle Chris Williams in the first quarter. After the third consecutive three-and-out series, Cutler shouted, "Can't we block anybody?" as he arrived on the sideline.
Cowboys first-round pick Dez Bryant returned the ensuing punt 62 yards for a touchdown and there were no signs of what was about to happen. Martz changed the game plan on the fly and told Cutler to stop worrying about seven-step drops and just get the ball out immediately. When Phillips sent inside linebackers James and Keith Brooking on a blitz up the middle, Cutler hit tight end Greg Olsen in stride for a 39-yard touchdown. Everyone with the Cowboys agreed it was a blown coverage, although Phillips did offer safety Alan Ball an alibi.
When a reporter timidly suggested the Cowboys might have shown blitz too early on the play, Phillips deadpanned, "Really?"
The Bears don't make their assistant coaches available after games, but Cutler (and several Cowboys defenders) gave Martz his props. The Bears don't have a true No. 1 receiver, but Cutler thinks that can be a positive.
"I think it's almost even a bigger advantage to have what we have and have a lot of weapons," the Bears' quarterback said. "It keeps teams off balance. They don't know where we are going or what we are doing in some of these formations or where we are headed, so it is working out to our advantage, and we have a guy like Mike Martz who knows how to take advantage of all that."
Phillips couldn't get over the fact the Bears were 1-of-11 on third downs but still managed to make some huge plays against his defense. The one conversion came on third-and-15 with the Bears trailing 14-10. Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox raced past Pro Bowl cornerback Mike Jenkins and Cutler delivered a gorgeous ball for a 59-yard completion. Jenkins jumped up looking for a teammate to blame, but Phillips indicated to me after the game that the Cowboys were in man-to-man coverage.
Cowboys history buffs/apologists will point to the 1993 team beginning the season with two losses before winning the Super Bowl. But a young player named Emmitt Smith ended his holdout in Week 3 of that season, and he's not walking through that door.
In the postgame locker room, Cowboys defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni gathered Marcus Spears, Igor Olshansky, Jay Ratliff and Stephen Bowen for a brief session. All of them still looked shell-shocked by what had happened and could offer little explanation for why the Bears were able to expose them with so many big plays. Across the room, cornerback Terence Newman offered the strongest comments of the afternoon, indicating there had been failures in practice leading up to Sunday's game.
"I think that things kind of got let go in practice. It’s things that … it’s not our coaches. They don’t really know some of the things that were going on," said Newman. "But as players, we have to crack down and make sure that some of the stuff that has been going on, doesn’t go on. We have to make it a game situation in practice. That’s just what it is. We go hard in practice, but maybe our intensity needs to go up a little bit. We got to do that as players and not worry about the coaches."
It was Newman's missed tackle in the fourth quarter that allowed Devin Hester to race down the sideline for 38 yards and set up the Bears' game-sealing touchdown. Newman said the defensive backs talked on Saturday night about establishing an identity, but the search will continue as the Cowboys prepare for a trip to Houston to play an explosive Texans team.
With two strong AFC South opponents looming, the Cowboys are staring at an 0-4 start. It's too early to declare the season over, but get back to me next Sunday afternoon.