IRVING, Texas – After two steps forward, the Bears defense took a big leap in the wrong direction in Sunday's 49-29 loss to the Cowboys.
A unit that had allowed only three touchdowns in its two previous games against the Commanders and Patriots got shredded for six TDs by the Dallas offense. The 49 points were the most the Bears have permitted in a game since Nov. 9, 2014, in a 55-14 debacle in Green Bay.
"It's very frustrating," said linebacker Roquan Smith. "Just knowing the guys that we have in the locker room and going out and putting out a performance like that, it's unacceptable.
"The 'O' did a great job today moving the ball, scoring points. The defense, we can never allow anyone to score that many points on us. It's going to start with us. It's always going to start with us and always end with us, so we have to be better. It's that simple."
The defense struggled to defend both the pass and the run. Dak Prescott completed 21 of 27 passes for 250 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a 114.5 passer rating. Although Ezekiel Elliott missed the game with a knee injury, Tony Pollard rushed for 131 yards and three TDs on 14 carries as part of a 200-yard rushing attack.
Dallas amassed 442 total yards and 24 first downs and converted 9-of-11 third-down opportunities (81.8 percent).
The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first four possessions to take a 28-7 second quarter lead. During that span they ran 33 plays, generated 278 yards and 12 first downs, averaged 8.4 yards per play and converted 5-of-5 third downs.
"We weren't as gap sound as we should have been," said defensive end Trevis Gipson. "Honestly, we could have been better and we could have played better together. We all had things that we need to work on and could have done better as a defense. I think it's just going to come down to us going to work tomorrow and figuring out what we need to do to be better."
More growth: As Smith mentioned, the Bears offense deserved a better fate. Justin Fields posted a career-high 120.0 passer rating—completing 17 of 23 passes for 151 yards and two TDs—for a unit that scored a season-high four TDs and rushed for 240 yards.
"I think we're growing, getting better each and every week," Fields said. "I'm just proud of the guys, the way they fought. We were down early, but they didn't waver. We kept the same mentality and just chipped away and I thought as a group we played well."
Making a run: The Bears scored 16 unanswered points to close the gap to 28-23 early in the third quarter, including 10 points in the final :40 of the first half.
After Fields' 17-yard TD pass to N'Keal Harry drew the Bears to within 28-14, Eddie Jackson intercepted a Prescott pass over the middle on the next play from scrimmage. Jackson returned the pick 21 yards to the Dallas 24, setting up Cairo Santos' 36-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
It was the first time the Bears defense had stopped the Cowboys all game.
"It was a big boost," Gipson said. "Before going out on that drive we told each other that we needed a play being made, and 'BoJack' is a great player, so he came in and did what we needed him to do, and it gave us life going into the second half."
The interception was Jackson's fourth of the season and his 14th in six seasons with the Bears. His four picks are tied for the most in the NFL with the Bills' Jordan Poyer and the Seahawks' Tariq Woolen.
Jackson also matched a career high with a team-leading 11 tackles.
Answering back: The Cowboys countered the Bears' 16 straight points by scoring the game's final 21 points.
The dagger came with 5:00 left in the third quarter. David Montgomery caught a short pass, but linebacker Leighton Vander Esch stripped the ball and linebacker Micah Parsons returned the fumble 36 yards for a TD that gave the Cowboys a comfortable 42-23 lead.
Montgomery, who rushed for 53 yards on 15 carries and caught three passes for 22 yards, was asked if he was frustrated with the loss.
"I'm more frustrated in myself, just because I could have performed better and I didn't," he said. "I felt like the momentum changed once I fumbled the ball and they recovered it for six. That's on me, and I take full [responsibility] for that."
Down but not out: Parsons was on the ground when he recovered the fumble. Fields ran in his direction but jumped over the linebacker to avoid him. Parsons then stood up and returned the fumble for a touchdown.
"It's my fault for just hopping over him," Fields said. "I should have tackled him. I can't remember the last time I made a tackle. I've just got to be aware in that situation and make sure he's down."
On the run: In addition to Montgomery's output, Khalil Herbert rushed for 99 yards and one TD on 16 carries, Fields ran for 60 yards and one TD on eight attempts and Velus Jones Jr. gained 33 yards on two jet sweeps.
The Bears lead the NFL in rushing and have now run for at least 200 yards in three straight games for the first time since 1968. They've topped 200 yards on the ground four times this season after failing to do so in any contest the previous four years.
Asked what accounts for the recent growth of the offense, tight end Cole Kmet said: "Just sticking with the run. That's kind of what our strength is. I don't think that's a secret at this point. They were prepared for it, but we were still able to run that football. So just sticking with the run game and let it create some opportunities for us in the pass game."
This and that: Kmet's 10-yard TD reception early in the fourth quarter was his first touchdown since Dec. 6, 2020 against the Lions… Veteran Riley Reiff started at right tackle in place of the injured Larry Borom (concussion) … Santos made the only field goal he attempted, extending his streak without a miss to 18, including all 12 he's tried this season … Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker registered the Bears' only sack, increasing his season total to three. He's the team's first rookie defensive back with at least three sacks since 2001 when Mike Brown and Mike Green had three apiece.