Before the Dallas Cowboys can eye a rematch with the rival that knocked them out of first place in the NFC East, they need to bounce back against a Chicago Bears team that’s also coming off a rough Thanksgiving Day showing.
Looking to remain undefeated away from home, the Cowboys’ only focus must be on avoiding a fourth straight defeat to the Bears on Thursday night.
A 33-10 loss to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving not only dropped Dallas (8-4) out of first in the division, but also from playoff position in the conference. The Cowboys trail the Eagles by a game, and though they’re tied with Seattle and Detroit for two wild-card spot, they don’t hold the tiebreaker over either.
The Cowboys visit Philadelphia on Dec. 14, but there’s a hurdle to clear before that.
"We got to get focused on beating Chicago," coach Jason Garrett said. "We have to learn from (the Eagles) game, build on the good stuff, correct the bad."
The bad outweighed the good and the result was a third straight home defeat for Garrett’s team. Dallas was held to 267 yards – its second-lowest total of the season – and 93 on the ground. Although NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray’s 1,427 yards are 381 more than his closest pursuer, he managed a season-low 73 and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Tony Romo threw for 199 yards with no TDs, two interceptions and absorbed four sacks.
Defensively, the Cowboys yielded a season-high 464 yards, including 256 on the ground, and allowed the Eagles to record first-quarter scoring drives of 80 and 88 yards.
"No excuses," defensive tackle Jeremy Mincey told the team’s official website. "We just gotta get better. Sometimes it’s good to get a good old fashioned butt-kicking to get you going again."
Now it may play to the Cowboys’ favor to leave town. Dallas, which went 1-3 during December in two of the last three years, is trying to go 6-0 away from home for the first time since 2007. Romo has 12 touchdowns and only one of his eight interceptions while posting a league-best 122.0 passer rating away from home this season.
Including a 31-17 win over Jacksonville in London that was recognized as a home game for the Jaguars, the Cowboys are averaging 30.4 points on the road compared to 21.4 at home, where they’re 3-4 and haven’t scored more than 17 in each of the last three.
"I think, for me, I think that turns me on a little bit – to come into someone’s house and hear the boos and all that," Murray said. "I think it’s a great thing.
"We’ve just got to focus, and have more patience, especially on the road, and not make many mistakes. I think we’ll be fine."
Romo threw three TDs without a pick and Murray ran for 146 yards on 18 carries during last season’s 45-28 loss at Chicago, where the Cowboys trailed 24-14 at halftime and allowed 490 yards to a Bears team led by then-backup quarterback Josh McCown.
That Bears defense ranked last in the league in allowing 161.4 rushing yards per game, but this season’s unit is 10th with an average of 105.5 allowed.
Chicago’s Matt Forte ran for 102 yards and caught seven passes for 73 and a TD in that contest. After LeSean McCoy burned the Cowboys for 159 rushing yards last week, they must certainly be aware of Forte, whose 1,478 yards from scrimmage rank behind only Murray (1,770) and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell (1,689).
"He’s almost half of their offense if you put it all together," Garrett said. "Very versatile, very productive, and they use him really well – similar to what Philly does in using their backs a lot of different ways.
"So you know I think teams who do this challenge you and you have to make sure to be on the screws in defending it."
Forte, however, equaled a career low with five rushing attempts that produced six yards in last Thursday’s 34-17 loss at Detroit. Only three times this season has Forte carried 20 or more times compared to last year when he did it on six occasions.
Chicago’s 23.1 rushing attempts per game rank 28th, and its average of 93.2 yards on the ground is 26th. The Bears managed 13 rushing yards against the stingy Lions as they opted to use more short passes and screen plays to attack the league’s top run defense.
Forte, however, knows the Bears (5-7) must keep it on the ground to succeed in the final month of a disappointing season.
"It’s of the utmost importance, especially if we’re playing outside, with the weather and stuff," he said. "You can’t just sit back there and throw 50 passes a game and expect to win."
Even though it’s won two straight at home, Chicago has underachieved in its second season under offensive-oriented coach Marc Trestman, averaging 6.7 fewer points than the 27.8 that was second-most in the NFL in 2013.
It won’t help that the Bears could be missing kicker Robbie Gould due to a quadriceps injury. Jay Feely may handle the kicking duties after being signed Wednesday.
The Bears are allowing 28.1 points per contest, 1.8 fewer than 2013, but likely not enough of an improvement to avoid missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
"I think with the guys we have and character and integrity of the guys, I don’t think anybody’s going to quit," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "I think the coaches won’t let us, they’re not going to quit on us."