ARLINGTON -- The smoldering fire you smell coming out of Arlington is the Dallas Cowboys' season potentially ready to go up in flames.
What else can be said about the Cowboys after Monday night's 34-18 blowout loss to the Chicago Bears at Cowboys Stadium?
So what if the Cowboys are 2-2 heading into next week's open date?
It's the continued struggles of the offense, which is the second-worst in the league, and the daunting upcoming schedule that put things at a critical mass.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett constantly preaches going to work every day to improve and things being a process.
Against the Bears, it was a methodical process of implosion.
Maligned quarterback Tony Romo was intercepted five times, including two that were returned for touchdowns -- 25 yards by cornerback Charles Tillman in the second quarter and 74 by linebacker Lance Briggs in the third quarter -- to blow the game open. Romo has had eight turnovers in the past two games.
It was the second five-interception game of his career and enough to allow equally maligned Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to work efficiently and effectively against the formerly No. 1-ranked Cowboys defense.
"It's disappointing. You can't win when the quarterback turns the ball over that many times," Romo said. "[The] No. 1 thing is taking care of the ball. I was the one who turned it over. I should have been smarter."
Cutler completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Brandon Marshall had seven catches for 138, including a 31-yard score in the fourth quarter to make it 34-10 and turn Cowboys Stadium into Soldier Field South.
The chant "Let's go Bears" rained down as Cowboys fans headed for the exits, leaving a large number of orange- and blue-clad Bears fans to party by themselves.
The Cowboys have the open week to correct things and Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff is expected to return after missing the first four games with a high ankle sprain. They also should get back two other defensive starters -- end Kenyon Coleman and linebacker Anthony Spencer, who missed the Bears game with knee and pectoral injuries.
But the damage certainly has been done -- considering that teams that start 3-1 make the playoffs 65 percent of the time compared with 35 percent for teams that start 2-2. The Bears are 3-1.
The Cowboys' hopes of salvaging their preseason goals of making the playoffs after missing them last season very well could be decided following the open date when they face arguably their toughest stretch of the season. They play four of the next five on the road, with trips to Baltimore, Carolina, Atlanta and Philadelphia are sandwiched around a home game against the New York Giants.
"Well, in general, I don't want to speak to any part of the team," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We overall met a Chicago team that made big plays with the ball. They took care of the ball. They made plays with the ball. We didn't. And we got beat soundly. That's all there is to it. It's very disappointing, here at home, in front of our fans. We thought a lot was at stake here, but we've got a long way to go, and we've got guys in here that know how to get back up."
Romo's turnovers certainly will draw a lot of attention.
Three were clearly his fault. The Briggs interception came after he tried to avoid a sack by Bears tackle Henry Melton, from Grapevine. Romo started to shovel a pass to tight end Jason Witten, then decided to pull it down, but Melton knocked the ball out of his hand and into the arms of Briggs, who was off to the end zone.
Another was a forced pass down the middle that was intercepted by cornerback D.J. Moore. Romo also forced the last pass intercepted down the right sideline into coverage; safety Major Wright grabbed it.
The other two were the fault of the receivers.
A 3-0 Bears lead in the second quarter became 10-0 when Romo and receiver Dez Bryant got their wires crossed on a hot route. Romo threw a stop and Bryant did a stop and go. Cornerback Charles Tillman returned the interception 25 yards for a touchdown.
"There is a story to it. We'll go back and watch the tape and figure out what happened," Romo said.
A drop by receiver Kevin Ogletree was tipped up into Wright's hands.
Bryant had 105 yards in receiving -- his first 100-yard game since his rookie season -- but the mistakes on the outside were just as crucial as Romo's interceptions.
Lump the running game into the Cowboys' woes. Running back DeMarco Murray struggled for the third consecutive game with 11 carries for 24 yards and two fumbles.
The Cowboys got a cheap touchdown when Kyle Orton replaced Romo in the fourth quarter and threw a 5-yard score to Witten.
But that won't mask the struggles of the offense. The starters have scored three touchdowns in the past three games, and the Cowboys are ranked 31st in scoring offense.
Much of the blame for the woes goes to the offensive line, which has not performed up to expectations as pass blockers or in the running game.
Romo gets hit too much and tried to improvise by extending plays with his feet. That caused the Briggs interception.
Murray was tackled for a loss five times against Bears after being dropped seven times a week ago by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I'm trying to do too much and help out in different areas. That is going to catch up to you," Romo said. "I have to make a conscious effort. I tried to do too much."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.