The Cowboys’ defense went ice cold in Thursday night’s 31-24 loss to the Bears in Week 14 of the 2019 NFL season. With Dallas suffering a third consecutive loss in the chill of Chicago, nobody’s seat is hotter than that of Jason Garrett.
With the Cowboys coach under pressure from owner/general manager Jerry Jones to deliver at least another division title, Dallas (6-7) remains in first place in the NFC East going into Week 15, up a head-to-head tiebreaker on the Eagles (5-7), who host the last game of Week 14 on Monday night against the Giants.
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But the lifeless, listless performance Thursday after a successful, long opening touchdown drive doesn’t inspire much confidence that the Cowboys will extend their season deep into the playoffs despite their fortunate division situation.
Here are three takeaways from Dallas’ latest dysfunctional development:
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How Dallas can win division or secure wild card
Jason Garrett is close to the point of no return.
Jones has been a blend of rational and cryptic/emotional regarding to the job security of Garrett deep into the coach’s 10th season. He seemed ready to fire Garrett soon after the loss to the Patriots in Week 12. Then he fought off tears while defending Garrett after the home loss to the Bills on Thanksgiving in Week 13. Before the Bears game, he declared Garrett would be coaching in the NFL in 2020 without saying that team would be the Cowboys.
There’s no telling what Jones will do now. The Cowboys still will be in the playoffs at 9-7 should they win their final three games, including at the Eagles for a season sweep in Week 16. They have a tough spot at home against the Rams next week with a much favorable one against the Redskins in Week 17.
Would making the move on Garrett now create a spark for the players in an interim situation? Or would removing Garrett create more chaos for a team seeing plenty of frustration on the sidelines and in the locker room? The bottom line is Garrett might need to do more than get his team to limp into the playoffs to survive. There’s still pressure for the Cowboys to make a run in the NFC, given the high expectations before the season.
The systems are failing, the play-calling is out of whack, and the players aren’t responding with sound, disciplined and smart efforts with so much on the line. Jones might need to sink or swim with Garrett, as the team owner has no good short-term alternative.
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The Cowboys’ defense is a disappointing mess.
Dallas played without three solid starters in tackle Antwaun Woods, outside linebacker Leighton Vander Each and safety Jeff Heath against Chicago. Despite having ends such as Demarcus Lawrence and Michael Bennett, a young playmaking linebacker in Jaylon Smith and a top defensive back in Byron Jones, the Cowboys had breakdowns everywhere, mostly by the other players.
It was a game full bad of tackling, blown assignments, mismatches and missed coverages. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (23-of-31 passing, 244 yards, three TDs, one INT, 115.5 rating; 63 yards, one TD rushing) and rookie running back David Montgomery (20 carries, 86 yards) both had big games as they stayed hot from their Thanksgiving win against a Lions defense that’s much worse than the Cowboys’ defense.
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Among the culprits Thursday for the Cowboys were aging linebacker Sean Lee, safety Xavier Woods and lost cornerback Jourdan Lewis, but it seemed like no one was immune to the mental and physical lapses.
Should the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs, it will be because their defense put their offense in impossible situations down the stretch in December.
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The Bears are alive and well in the NFC playoff race.
Let’s not make this all about the Cowboys’ failure. The Bears (7-6) moved within a game and a half of the Vikings (8-4), whom they beat earlier this season, for the No. 6 seed and the NFC’s final wild card. After Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy were feeling the heat, they’ve responded in producing four wins in five games.
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Now the Bears will root for the Seahawks, Cowboys or 49ers to beat the the 7-5 Rams, to whom they lost earlier this season. The Bears play the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 17, but before that, they have two big challenges at the Packers and vs. the Chiefs.
But Chicago is playing well right now, much like its NFC North-winning form of 2018. It would be a big mistake to rule it out.