CHICAGO – This felt like Thanksgiving 2.0 for the Cowboys' offense.
Another promising start, and then …
"Frustrating," quarterback Dak Prescott said after Thursday's 31-24 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. "I think that's the best word for it."
For the second time in a week, and only the third time all season, the Cowboys scored a touchdown on their opening drive. Arguably, it was their best and most balanced series through 13 games: a season-high 17 plays for 75 yards, chewing up nearly 9 minutes without a penalty. Ezekiel Elliott, limited to 12 carries against Buffalo last week due to a mounting deficit, had 8 on Thursday's opening possession for 33 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown for an early 7-0 lead.
Punt. Punt. A 42-yard missed field goal by Brett Maher. Punt. Punt.
By the time the Cowboys cobbled together their second scoring drive – another 2-yard Elliott touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter – the Bears had already ripped off 24 unanswered points.
A week ago, the Bills outscored Dallas 26-0 after yielding an early touchdown. Elliott got two carries in the second half of that game. He got six in the second half Thursday night. Time and score threw balance out the window.
Thanksgiving all over again.
"I just think we get bogged down offensively," tight end Jason Witten said. "We had the good drive early and then you bog down. I think that's the biggest thing – consistency. Everybody talks about playing 60-minute games. I mean, that's really the key."
Prescott said he didn't see major adjustments from the Bears' defense after the first-quarter touchdown. The results were very different, though.
In those five drives between touchdowns (excluding the kneel-down at the end of the first half) the Cowboys had three three-and-outs. They gained 57 total yards in that time, and 52 came on the second-quarter series that ended with Maher's miss.
Elliott got them in scoring position with a 31-yard run. But on third-and-4 from the Chicago 24, Prescott and fullback Jamize Olawale – essentially Elliott's backup Thursday with rookie Tony Pollard (ankle) inactive – didn't connect on a route.
"Just miscommunication on that one," Prescott said.
The offense did find some semblance of rhythm in the fourth quarter with 17 points on three scoring drives, but it was too late.
The Cowboys (6-7, first place in the NFC East by a half-game) entered Thursday ranked first in total offense but produced only 24 combined points in their previous two losses to the Patriots and Bills.
The Bears, top-10 defensively in every major statistical category, held Dallas to 2-of-11 on third down after the first series.
"There's still hope. We've got to play better football," Elliott said. "That's what it comes down to, playing better football, going out there and executing."
Prescott said the offense had their "best week of preparation" in practice. Why they couldn't carry it over to game day, once again, is the question.
"Can't put a finger on it," Prescott said. "Wish I could right now. If I could, obviously we wouldn't be in this situation. We'd be getting over this and out of this slump. But that's the most frustrating part is we have the skill level, we have the players, we have the chemistry at times.
"But we're not playing together as a team complementary enough when we need to, and we've got to figure out what it is."