CHICAGO — Privately, the Dallas Cowboys coaches confessed that they had not celebrated the news that quarterback Jay Cutler would not be starting for the Chicago Bears on Monday night.They were more concerned, they said, about a less-rusty Josh McCown, the perennial NFL backup.McCown. McGloin. Brees. Manning. Does it even make a difference any more?With first place in the NFC East on the line, the Cowboys’ No. 32-ranked defense couldn’t stop McCown, his running back or any of the Bears’ talented receivers Monday night.Admittedly, the weather at Soldier Field — a minus-9 wind chill factor at kickoff — was frightful. But the Bears brought a backup quarterback and a 6-6 record into the game. And they still piled up five touchdowns and 490 total yards. You’ve read this story before, of course. Again, an inept defensive effort negated whatever patient game plan the Cowboys’ offense might have considered. Same song — with a special holiday verse. The Cowboys began the cold night with a promising, 12-play, 75-yard march to a touchdown, with DeMarco Murray running the ball six times for 52 yards.But McCown and the Bears came right back and scored on their first possession. And the possession after that, and the one after that, and the one after that, until the Cowboys, frozen in place, were staring at a 42-14 deficit.Chicago did not have to punt the entire night.“We didn’t do a very good job of making stops on defense,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett admitted. “They made a number of good plays and a number of big plays.“I thought we did some good things on offense, but it became one of those games where they were scoring every time. The game got out of hand.”Games like this happen in the NFL, even to the best of teams. But this wasn’t Russell Wilson, Drew Brees or Tom Brady carving up the Cowboys’ defense. It was Josh McCown, native of Jacksonville, Texas, and oldest of the quarterbacking McCowns. Officially, the game marked the coldest regular season Cowboys game on record — 8 degrees at kickoff, with a biting 14 mph wind. And Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ passing game showed it. Romo was far from sharp, completing only 11 passes for 104 total yards.But for McCown and running back Matt Forte, it was Bear Weather, when the Bears, as the song says, “bear down.”Making wise decisions all night long, McCown completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns — a jaw-dropping performance even on the balmiest of nights.The Cowboys defense couldn’t stop Forte, who rushed for 102 yards, and the secondary was tied in frequent knots by Chicago receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Improvement has to come, Garrett said after the game.“We have to play better run defense,” he said. “We have to minimize the plays they make in the passing game. We have to find ways to get to the quarterback. And we have to do a better job covering on the back end.”But how, with only three weeks left, do you do that with a defense that has given up more yards than anyone this season?“We’ve done that before, and we’ll simply have to do it again,” Garrett said.But what else can he say at this point? Injuries have been a problem. He Cowboys lost defensive leader Sean Lee again Monday night. The Cowboys’ problems on defense, however, have become a growing problem for Romo and the offense. “It’s a team loss — let me make it abundantly clear,” Garrett said Monday, trying not to throw the defense under the team bus. “We understand that.“When you play a game like that, when you have to match them, you have to match them. You have to convert third downs. It’s as simple as that.”The best — worst? — example of that Monday came shortly before halftime. The Bears had just marched 68 yards and scored on a field goal to take a three-point lead, and Romo had 1:33 to try to answer with a touchdown.Four quick passes later, however, including two where Romo seemed to make a poor throw, the Cowboys were punting the ball back to the Bears. It took McCown only 37 more seconds to get Chicago into the end zone, with the touchdown coming on a leaping, jaw-dropping catch by Jeffery at the far right pylon. Bear Weather. Bear Night. “We just have to go back to work and fix it,” Garrett said of his No. 32-ranked defense.You’ve heard that line before, of course.Does it even make a difference?
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton