On a drive early in the second quarter of Thursday night's game, with the score still 0-0, the Bears defense had a pair of chances to get off the field. The unit had made stops on third down, and needed to deliver again for the offense to regain possession.
In both instances, with the Soldier Field crowd turning up the noise and the Chicago defense primed to make a key play, the Dallas Cowboys elected to run the ball on fourth down. And in both instances, that decision proved to be successful.
Those two gains were far from the only times the Cowboys were efficient running the ball. Time and time again, the Dallas offense gained major yardage on the ground, running around and through the Chicago defense. The Bears were unable to make stops when needed, a major problem in the 41-28 loss.
"Defensively, we can't play like that," defensive end Jared Allen said. "Their run game wasn't complicated. They won the running battle (on Thursday) and we didn't get off the field. If we do that, hopefully it's a different game."
Dallas came into the contest ranked second in the NFL in rushing, at 145.3 yards per game. They eclipsed that total against the Bears, gaining 194 yards on 35 carries - the most Chicago has allowed rushing in a game this season. The main culprit was running back DeMarco Murray, the league's leading rusher who added to his stats by gaining 179 yards on the ground versus Chicago.
Murray converted both of the fourth down attempts in the second quarter, with the second of those going for a 1-yard touchdown. He also reeled off three runs of longer than 25 yards, including a 40-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter. His backup, Joseph Randle, had just one carry, but he shook his way into the end zone on an electrifying 17-yard touchdown.
From their scouting of the Cowboys, the Bears were well aware they were facing a run-heavy team, with Murray doing a majority of the work. Yet it proved not to be a matter of preparation, but execution. The defense was unable to slow the running back down, a main reason Chicago was unable to get off the field when needed. Dallas converted 50 percent of its third-down tries, as well as both of the fourth-down attempts.
The fourth-down touchdown by Murray was the first of seven consecutive drives the Cowboys scored on.
"We knew (the Cowboys) had a lot of runs, they're obviously one of the best rushing teams in football, and they have a lot of scheme plays, a lot of different-type plays," said safety Ryan Mundy. "We have all the numbers heading into the game - about their play-calling, their play selection - we have all that information available to us. They like to wear teams down with the running. They have one of the best offensive lines in football and the hottest running back in football."
One of the keys all season for the Dallas run game has been to use their physical line to wear opposing defenses down. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett calls Murray, "a workhorse," and that certainly was the case versus the Bears. The running back's 32 attempts were a season high, as was his rushing yardage total. He also added a team-high nine receptions; 41 of Dallas' 62 offensive plays resulted in the ball ending up in No. 29's hands.
He was especially dangerous in the second half, as Dallas ran for 129 yards after halftime. Murray is the best back on the entire Bears schedule, and it showed on Thursday.
"It's on us; we didn't play well enough on defense," linebacker Jon Bostic said. "For us, they made more plays than we did."
Defensive tackle Stephen Paea took it a step further. The four-year veteran said he was embarrassed by his unit's performance, proving to be a harsh grader when asked to assess how the run defense performed.
"We were not patient enough to stay in our gaps, and a guy like Murray is going to find the open hole and hit it," Paea said. "I'd give us an F. We didn't have a single takeaway. When our offense scores a lot of points like that, we need to step up on defense and we didn't do it."