ARLINGTON, Texas -- As time mercifully wound down, when the clock wouldn't allow any more Dallas Cowboys mistakes, a slow clap began to build among the faithful at Cowboys Stadium. The Chicago Bears faithful, that is.
"Oh, we travel well," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
Those Bears fans were the only ones left in the mammoth structure nicknamed Jerry World, and they soaked it up. Literally. Right before the 34-18 massacre at the expense of the Cowboys ended, a steady rain began to hit the field. An apt metaphor for the Cowboys (2-2), who showed up expecting to play a showcase game and left limping into their bye week, likely wishing their TVs had auto-delete for these highlights.
With quarterback Tony Romo throwing a whopping five interceptions, with receiver Dez Bryant dropping a wide-open deep ball, with running back DeMarco Murray fumbling, with cornerback Morris Claiborne watching receiver Devin Hester blow past him for a score -- it will be all lowlights.
And now, they have a week to think about it. To improve, yes. But also to ponder. Murray predicted it would "seem like forever."
"You have to get over it; it's just going to suck for a few days now, obviously," said Romo, who was 31 of 43 for 307 yards with one touchdown to go with his picks. "It's going to sit there in your stomach and just eat at you. In different situations out there, trying to do too much and help out, I think that's going to catch up with you in the National Football League. I'm going to reassess a couple things that are happening and make sure they don't happen again."
Opportunity missed. Momentum halted. National impression made. Bye week welcome. Meet the Cowboys at a crossroads.
"We got beat soundly, that's all there is to it, at home in front of our fans," owner Jerry Jones said in the locker room after the game. "We thought a lot was at stake here. Tonight, we're very disappointed. We thought we could come here and make a good showing. I'm glad we got the time off we got. Give us a chance to reassess and look in the mirror. It is a very timely bye for us."
Monday night's loss was the most confounding kind. Mistake-filled and ugly, with plenty of blame to go around and few answers, except, as linebacker Sean Lee said, "We got to get rid of this bad football we've been playing."
"So, you just work," Lee said.
Credit to the Bears. Their defense was the one picking off Romo. Their defense was the one turning picks into points, as Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs did. Their offense was the one that made the Cowboys pay for their mistakes, with quarterback Jay Cutler going 11 of 12 for 219 yards with two scores in a sparkling second half that turned a 10-7 game into a blowout.
Yet the Cowboys had plenty of self-inflicted wounds. Like the Romo-Bryant miscommunication that led to the first interception, which Bryant chalked up to the savvy veteran Tillman tricking him into thinking the Bears were in the wrong coverage. Like the second pick, which bounced off the shoulder pads of Kevin Ogletree and found the waiting hands of Bears defensive back Major Wright. Like that ill-fated pass that sent Briggs into the end zone, 74 yards later.
"Got a wake-up call for us," said Witten, who had 112 yards on 13 catches. "I don't say that nonchalantly; it has to be. You can't bounce back and forth like this and then try to compete December-time. You can't. We've been in this situation before. Can. Not. Do. It. And we know that. We'll get better, and I think we got guys who can get it changed."
The bye will help, injury-wise; the Cowboys expect nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle) back, along with center Phil Costa (back). But it will help mentally, too. Often, there is a rush to the field after a loss, a scurry to make it right. Not this time.
"I'm pretty sure every guy is going to take this time and see what everybody can do better," Bryant said. "Look at the mistakes and, of course, criticize ourselves and just try to get better. I'm assuming that's what everybody's going to do. We got a break, but we're going to focus on trying to get right. And focus on our next opponent."
The Cowboys have been down this road before. Expectations pile up. The talent is there. That much-discussed window is still open. And yet, inconsistency continues. A big loss follows a big win. And so on. The same trait that has led Dallas to make just one playoff appearance since the 2008 season is still around.
Now, at a crossroads, the Cowboys need to respond.
"I've been buried nine feet under before with no hope," Jones said, "and got to see some sunshine. That's what you gotta do."
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