IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys certainly picked a bad time for an awful game, one that will stick with them for an extended period.
This is going to be a long brutal stretch in a season that is already having an all-too-familiar feeling.
And that’s not good.
Dallas (2-2) goes into its bye week after Tony Romo’s five interceptions in a 34-18 loss to Chicago.
Then comes a challenging stretch with four of five games on the road, including three current division leaders.
“When you have a game like last night you want to be playing right now, but that’s not how it works in this league,” coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday.
Even without a game this week, there won’t be a lot of times to make a lot of corrections.
Cowboys players had their normal day off Tuesday, a day before their only practice of the week precedes their four-day break mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.
Their next game is Oct. 14 at Baltimore, and their only home game before the second half of November is Oct. 28 against the New York Giants.
The defending Super Bowl champions are 3-0 at Cowboys Stadium and will be looking to avenge a season-opening home loss to Dallas.
When the team landed in California for training camp in late July, one of the first things seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten said was that 2012 “can’t be the same old story.”
But one-fourth through the regular season, things don’t really seem to have changed for a team that has been distinctly average for so long.
The Cowboys were 8-8 last season. After alternating wins and losses so far this season, they are 122-122 in regular-season games since the start of 1997 with only one playoff victory.
After Monday night’s loss, Witten said it “has to be a wakeup call” with another up-and-down start.
“We have regroup, get healthy, evaluate it and stick together,” Witten said. “There’s no finger-pointing. We have great guys that are working hard. Ultimately, it comes down to results.”
They were also 2-2 going into their bye last year after a home loss when two interceptions thrown by Romo were returned by Detroit for touchdowns, similar to what the Bears did.
The Lions wiped out a 24-point deficit in the second half last year. Lance Briggs’ 74-yard return in the third quarter Monday night, on a ball that was poked out of Romo’s hands and could have easily been ruled a fumble, put Chicago up 24-7.
On its 11 possessions against the Bears, Dallas scored two touchdowns - one in the game’s final minute with backup quarterback Kyle Orton - and a field goal. There were the five picks after punting the first three times they had the ball.
Even with a season-low two penalties, correcting something that had been a big problem, there was no way to overcome five turnovers.
The Cowboys had only one takeaway, a fumble by Jay Cutler on DeMarcus Ware’s fifth sack of the season. But Briggs’ interception came on the very next play.
Jacksonville is the only NFL team that has played four games and scored fewer than the 65 points by Dallas. The Cowboys are averaging 364 total yards per game, 296 passing and only 68 rushing.
“What you have to do is keep banging away at it,” Garrett said.
Even though Romo has completed two-thirds of his passes (101 of 151) and is on pace for a career-high 4,592 yards passing, he has five touchdowns with eight interceptions - only two fewer picks that he had in 522 attempts last season. He has been sacked eight times after being taken down a career-high 36 times last season.
Running back DeMarco Murray, who ran 20 times for 131 yards in the victory at the Giants, has 41 carries for 106 yards in the three games since with two 11-yard runs.
Garrett on Tuesday was calm and collected, as usual, when discussing the latest loss. While some things need to change, the coach said his demeanor won’t.
“One of the things I’ve learned a long time ago, really in life, as a player and certainly as a coach, is you have to be who you are,” Garrett said. “I think anybody who knows me, coaches and players on our football team, knows the passion and intensity I have for this game, and for coaching and teaching, trying to get this team right.”