Bears-Cowboys: What we learned
CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Bears decide Josh McCown's final start of the season was Monday's 45-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the 34-year-old backup insists he is ready to hand the offense back to starting quarterback Jay Cutler.
"If Jay's healthy, Jay should be the starting quarterback," McCown said. "For me, it's week to week. I'm at practice so I see his progress and monitor that. I understand every week that if my number is called, I've got to be ready to go."
McCown passed for 348 yards, four touchdowns and rushed for another score and the Bears scored on all eight possessions before their game-ending kneeldown. The Bears (7-6) are tied with the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North entering Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.
"There's no change in the plan. We'll see where Jay is this week. He'll have to be released by the doctors," Bears coach Marc Trestman said of the stated plan to start Cutler when he's cleared medically. "I thought (McCown) played an excellent game. We moved the ball, he completed passes. Josh ran around, made some plays. I think it all starts with the offensive line. They kept him clean."
It was the fifth time this season the Cowboys allowed more than 345 passing yards.
Robbie Gould's third field goal of the game came with 3:47 left in the game to put the Bears ahead by 24 and brought the Cowboys' second-team offense on the field for a late touchdown by running back Joseph Randle.
Dallas used running back DeMarco Murray as a weapon in the first half, but couldn't stay close enough to attack the NFL's worst run defense in the second half. Murray had 20 carries for 102 yards, the first time he cleared those totals since Sept. 22 against the St. Louis Rams (26-175).
Quarterback Tony Romo threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Cole Beasley with 10:52 remaining in the game and the Cowboys cut the Bears lead in half, 42-21.
"It became where we had to match serve, and we couldn't do that," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said.
Romo finished 11 of 20 for 104 yards with three touchdowns. He was sacked twice.
The Cowboys (7-6) fell to 2-5 on the road and are one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) in the NFC East. Dallas hosts Green Bay on Sunday and ends the season with a game against the Eagles.
"It feels like we'll have to win out," Romo said.
Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 84 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half, and receiver Brandon Marshall had six receptions for 100 yards.
What the Bears said
"We needed this. The way our division was looking, we needed to come out here and needed to win, and we just have to carry it over." -- Left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
What the Cowboys said
"Shocked. As bad as this hurts, we've got to stick together. We're still in this thing." -- Wide receiver Dez Bryant, on his reaction to Dallas' 45-28 loss.
What we learned about the Bears
1. Coach Marc Trestman has the golden touch with quarterbacks. Josh McCown had one forgettable drive but was otherwise brilliant in completing 27 of 36 passes for four touchdowns and rushing for another. One example of his flawless decision-making: On McCown's 7-yard TD run, the play called from a five-receiver, empty formation was for a quick post to tight end Martellus Bennett. With Bennett lined up to his right in the slot, McCown instantly pulled the ball down when Bennett was jammed off the line of scrimmage as the Cowboys dropped seven into coverage. The quarterback sprinted for the goal line and beat Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee to the spot to give the Bears a 14-7 lead.
"The team knows who the starting quarterback is," McCown said of his status as the backup to Jay Cutler, who is sidelined due to a sprained ankle. "As long as Jay is healthy and ready to go, I don't think that's any question. I don't look at it that way."
Perhaps McCown is no better than "replacement level," but his success at least brings a devil's-advocate approach to the conversation looming for Trestman and general manager Phil Emery on the future of Cutler. It also puts Cutler in a potential can't-win pinch.
Cutler missed five of the past six games, and his injury history gives management reason for concern. McCown had a passer rating of 141.9 on Monday and is at 109.8 this season. McCown played seven games so far this season. His worst passer rating was 90.7 in his first start of the year, a "Monday Night Football" win over the Packers at Green Bay on Nov. 4.
2. Running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery give the Bears three legitimate first options on offense. Forte enjoyed his second consecutive 100-yard game, and he has 43 carries for 222 yards the past two games. On Monday, Forte tore the Cowboys up as a receiver, too, gaining 73 yards on seven receptions. With Cleveland up next -- the Browns yielded 12 receptions to New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen last week -- no doubt Forte will top 20 touches again. Jeffery has 17 receptions for 333 yards the past two games.
"We know the problems that we can cause a defense," right guard Kyle Long said. "And when you have so many weapons everywhere, you can really open it up."
The only receiver playing any better in the NFL will be across the field at FirstEnergy Stadium for the Browns -- another second-year stud, Josh Gordon. Gordon's 31 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns the past three games might lead to some short or sleepless nights for Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The good news for Tucker? Cleveland is 28th in the NFL in rushing.
What we learned about the Cowboys
1. There is no "D" in Big D. The Cowboys gave up 490 total yards and didn't stop the Bears on their first eight possessions -- three field goals, five touchdowns. Running back Matt Forte ran for 102 yards, and the Cowboys made Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown look like Roger Staubach with four touchdown passes and a rushing score.
By all indications, there is no acrimony between the Cowboys' potent offense and the team's beleaguered defense. If the team collapses again in December, that could change.
The Cowboys are allowing 298.5 passing yards per game, and they have yielded a baffling 41 touchdowns. Middle linebacker Sean Lee brings a playmaking element to the defense that is sorely lacking when he is on the sideline, but Lee left in the third quarter with a neck injury. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's hands are tied with the Pro Bowler ailing.
"It was horrible," Lee said. "We lost the game, we played terrible. We got dominated. We've got to figure out something if we want to get into the playoffs."
The Cowboys nearly allowed 500 yards for the fifth time this season.
2. Dallas enters must-win territory immediately.
Quarterback Tony Romo said the prevailing feeling with a one-game division deficit and the Green Bay Packers riding into AT&T Stadium is that the Cowboys must win out. With the Eagles leading the NFC East, and with Dallas due to play at Philadelphia in the regular-season finale, the Cowboys are not out of anything just yet.
"You've got to forget about it," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said of Monday's defeat. "It's a short week. We've got a 24-hour rule. We need to be ready to go (at practice) Wednesday."