ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Those 30-something defenders for the Chicago Bears showed Tony Romo how much they can still play.
Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, two of the five defensive starters for Chicago in their 30s, returned interceptions for touchdowns, and the Bears beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-18 on Monday night.
Though Romo was only sacked once, on the Cowboys’ opening series, he was pressured relentlessly and threw five interceptions. That matched his career high, set five years ago in his first full season as a starter.
Briggs’ interception came in a wild two-play exchange of turnovers midway through the third quarter.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was nearly flawless after halftime, when he completed 11 of 12 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 34-yard score to Devin Hester to start the half and a 31-yarder to Brandon Marshall with 6½ minutes left.
Cutler was 18 of 24 overall for 275 yards.
Major Wright, who returned an interception for a touchdown in Chicago’s last game, had two of the five interceptions. D.J. Moore has nine career interceptions, three of them against Romo after getting another one Monday night.
Chicago’s first fumble of the season came when Cutler was sacked by DeMarcus Ware and Victor Butler recovered at the Bears 27.
On the very next play, Romo was trying to escape pressure when he was hit from behind by Henry Melton. The ball popped forward into the air and Briggs grabbed it and rumbled for his first interception return for a score since 2005 to put the Bears (3-1) ahead 24-7.
Once again, the Cowboys (2-2) are a .500 team. They are also one of the lowest-scoring team in the NFL with only 65 points.
Since the start of the 1997 season, Dallas is 122-122 in regular-season games. They have won only one playoff game in that span after three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span in the first half of the 1990s.
Romo finished 31 of 43 for 307 yards and a touchdown. When the Cowboys got the ball back in the final 3 minutes, Kyle Orton got his first action since the veteran quarterback signed a free agent deal during the offseason to be Romo’s backup.
Orton threw a 5-yard TD pass to Jason Witten with 34 seconds left, capping a 10-play, 89-yard drive. The Cowboys made a 2-point conversion, then failed to grab the onside kick.
The regular referees were back, wrapping up the first weekend of games since returning to work. It was a week after that disputed Monday night ending that gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Referee Walt Anderson had to go under the hood to review three plays in the Bears-Cowboys game, but none that will cause the kind of uproar from a week earlier.
Chicago opened the second half with a 73-yard drive capped by Cutler’s 34-yard TD pass to Hester, who raced passed rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne and had to make a lunging catch at the goal line.
Despite a screen shot frozen on the huge video board over the field that raised the question of whether the ball might have hit the ground as Hester rolled over, Anderson confirmed the on-field ruling of touchdown after reviewing the play.
There was another play involving Claiborne overturned on review later in the third quarter. When Alshon Jeffery was going down after a catch, Claiborne stripped the ball and started running the other way. It was originally ruled a fumble, but the replay showed the receiver still controlled the ball when his elbow hit the ground.
In the fourth quarter, Dallas challenged a pass interference call against its defense in the end zone. They contended that the ball had been tipped, which was confirmed by replay.
That brought up fourth down, and Robbie Gould kicked his second field goal, a 21-yarder.
The interception by Tillman in the second quarter, on a ball thrown right into his hands by Romo when intended receiver Dez Bryant was still running down the field, came on the third play after Gould’s 43-yard field goal.
Dallas responded to that quick 10-point surge by going 80 yards on nine plays, capped by Romo’s 10-yard TD pass to Miles Austin with 14 seconds left in the half.
Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte returned to the Bears lineup after missing the last game with a sprained right ankle and being limited in practice all week. He had 13 carries for 52 yards.
The Bears had an NFL-high 14 sacks through the first three weeks of the season, and upped that total on the first series when Melton sacked Romo on third-and-7 from the Bears 40.
Melton is from nearby Grapevine and played running back at the University of Texas.
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The Cowboys and Chicago Bears have a lot in common besides their 2-1 records. They both feature stingy defenses and offensive lines that struggle to protect their quarterbacks. Now, the two teams face each other Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Last season, DeMarco Murray was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on 14 carries. In the Cowboys’ 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay on Sept. 23, Murray was stopped in the backfield seven times and the Cowboys’ ground attack, ranked 29th after three weeks, sputtered for the second consecutive game. Now, Murray will face a Chicago front that is yielding an average of 3.8 yards per carry, the 11th-lowest average in the NFL.
When the Cowboys pass
Against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys’ receivers came to life. Miles Austin accumulated more than 100 receiving yards for the first time this season and Dez Bryant nearly doubled his catch total. But tight end Jason Witten is still struggling and pass protection remains a problem. Quarterback Tony Romo will face a Chicago pass defense that has improved significantly since last season when it was ranked 28th in the NFL. Right now the Bears are surrendering an average of only 203 yards through the air. They also led the league with 14 sacks after Week 3.
When the Bears run
Matt Forte didn’t play in the Bears’ Week 3 victory over St. Louis because of an injured ankle. And he is questionable this week. If he can’t play, Chicago’s rushing attack should still function. Michael Bush, the primary ball carrier in Forte’s absence, gained 55 yards and scored the Bears’ only offensive touchdown against the Rams. It will be interesting to see how he or Forte, if available, fares against the Cowboys, a team that failed to corral Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch but limited Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin to 53 yards on 19 carries.
When the Bears pass
Receiver Brandon Marshall has added a new dimension to Chicago’s passing offense. But Chicago still has an offensive line that struggles to protect Jay Cutler. Cutler has already been sacked 11 times in 2012 and the pressure he has faced seems to have impacted his performance. He has completed only 52.7 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes. A Cowboys defense that had yielded fewer passing yards than all but one team should be able to create more problems for Cutler and the Bears.
Led by the inimitable Devin Hester, Chicago was in top ten in both punt and kick return average after three weeks. It’s expected the Cowboys will try to keep the ball away from Hester, who scored three touchdowns on special teams last season. But it won’t be easy now that Dallas punter Chris Jones is doubtful with a sprained knee. Jones allowed only 4.4 yards per return – the second-lowest average in the NFL after three weeks. His replacement, Brian Moorman, signed last week, yielded 21.5 yards per return – the fourth-worst average in the NFL at the time he was cut by Buffalo on Tuesday.
Chicago won’t be in awe of Cowboys Stadium when they arrive. They’ve been here before. Two years ago, the Bears defeated Dallas 27-20 and helped set the stage for the eventual mid-season firing of head coach Wade Phillips. That game took place on Sunday. This one is happening on Monday night, when the Cowboys have thrived recently. Since 2007, they have won four of the last five times when they’ve played the final game on the NFL’s weekend football schedule.
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The Dallas Cowboys went 8-8 last year and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in the last decade. Yet the team set new highs in revenue and operating profit, and this month, it was the first NFL franchise to be valued at more than $2 billion. According to Forbes magazine, the Cowboys are worth roughly twice as much as teams in the middle of the pack.
Is winning overrated?
Jerry Jones would blanch at the suggestion, because he’s as much a football fan as owner and general manager. The Cowboys also won a string of earlier titles, both before Jones and with him, that helped establish the brand around the globe.
Win or lose, the Cowboys remain a glamour team and TV favorite, and this week, the national spotlight returns to Arlington for Monday Night Football. Fans always focus on what happens on the field, but there’s a business game within the game, and that’s where the Cowboys are world beaters.
Jones paid $140 million for the team in 1989, and it’s valued at $2.1 billion today. Every franchise in the National Football League has become richer in the past generation, thanks to a string of record-setting broadcast contracts. Still, the Cowboys stand apart, and in the last year alone, the team’s value rose 14 percent.
Cowboys Stadium is difference maker No. 1, so it’s fitting that it usually gets a lot of airtime during broadcasts. Last year, the Cowboys led the league in attendance and averaged about 6,000 standing room tickets per game. According to Stats LLC, attendance exceeded stadium capacity by 7 percent, second highest in the league by that measure of popularity.
With more fans staying home and watching the NFL on big, high-definition televisions, Cowboys games remain the place to be. The stadium’s luxuries are impressive, from the field boxes to the art collection to the giant video board. And it keeps making news, announcing that a Victoria’s Secret shop will open Monday, with the help of lingerie models.
The big turnout and TV attention keep corporate sponsors happy. AT&T, Bank of America, Dr Pepper, Ford, Miller Beer and Pepsi help generate $80 million a year in sponsor revenue, Forbes reports. And those dollars aren’t shared the way that broadcast rights and gate receipts are split among the league’s 32 teams.
Jones sometimes primes the pump by serving as the ultimate pitchman, and he has surprising crossover appeal. He’s been making national TV commercials since the 1990s. (Remember the Pizza Hut ad with Deion Sanders after he signed the player to a huge contract? Jones asks if he wants $15 million or $20 million, and Sanders says, “Both” — and Jones just shrugs.)
Ads for Papa John’s pizza have Jones doing rap songs and hip-hop dances, and serve as another example of how the Cowboys combine national and local campaigns — and boost their brand and their partners’ at the same time. Jones even has an ownership stake in the pizza chain, and he’s replicated the same model with Dunkin’ Donuts.
“It’s extraordinary how the Cowboys convert publicity into revenue,” said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a consulting firm in Chicago.
He compares Jones to the late George Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees owner who was as famous as his players and appeared in TV commercials, too. Celebrity CEOs don’t get any more high profile, and Jones and the Cowboys have an additional advantage: The NFL’s salary cap keeps the biggest expense — player payroll — under control.
When the Cowboys leverage their brand (or Jones) with advertisers, revenue gains quickly hit the bottom line. Last season, the Cowboys’ operating income was $227 million, up from $9 million the year before they moved into the new stadium. Revenue increased almost 80 percent during the same time.
The Cowboys and most NFL teams are private businesses that don’t report financial results. Forbes has long estimated the numbers for pro sports teams, and the reports are widely respected.
Building the brand
When Jones bought the team, the Cowboys were laggards, but the franchise was a great name in a big, growing market. And the NFL’s popularity was about to explode, boosted by new broadcast deals. Jones was one of the ringleaders who pushed for more competitive bidding, which brought Fox into the fold and eventually led to more NFL games on more networks.
While that grew the pie for everyone, Jones was also growing a separate revenue stream. He sold sponsorships at the old Texas Stadium that often conflicted with the official league-wide sponsors. He signed contracts with Nike when the league had a separate apparel deal. Today the Cowboys have their own merchandising outfit and a concessions company with the Yankees. Its Legends Premium Sales unit is handling suite and ticket sales for the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium.
Jones doubled his building budget on Cowboys Stadium to $1.2 billion, and he paid the extra, not Arlington taxpayers. He wanted an attraction that wouldn’t be eclipsed a few years later.
MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010 in New Jersey and had a higher price tag, isn’t nearly as compelling — or valuable.
“The Cowboys had the better vision and execution,” Ganis said. “Management counts.”
The New York Giants play in MetLife, and they won the Super Bowl last year. They’re No. 4 on the Forbes list of NFL teams — and still trail the Cowboys’ value by $632 million. That’s a lead that looks safe.
Coming Tomorrow: Most NFL franchises have sold the naming rights to their stadiums. Not the Cowboys. Why America’s Team is leaving money on the table.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys enter their home contest against the Chicago Bears with an opportunity to remain in first place in the NFC East on "Monday Night Football."
The series: The Cowboys lead the all-time series 13-9 and have won two of the last three meetings. This will be just the fourth meeting between the teams in the last 14 seasons. At one point, the Cowboys had defeated the Bears in six consecutive games from 1973-84.
It’s Monday night: The Cowboys are making their 74th appearance on "Monday Night Football," second most in league history. Miami has made the most appearance with 78. The Cowboys lead the NFL with 43 MNF victories. The Bears and Cowboys have met only once on "Monday Night Football" with the Bears winning 22-6 on Sept. 2, 1996. With Lovie Smith as the coach, the Bears are 7-2 on Monday nights, including winning five of the last six contests.
Spencer and Forte status: Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is listed as questionable with a pectoral muscle injury. He is a game-time decision. If he plays, Spencer will wear a harness. Spencer is second on the team with two sacks and leads with nine quarterback pressures. Matt Forte, the Bears’ starting running back, is questionable with an ankle injury. Forte was limited all week in practice. Forte has rushed for just 111 yards on 23 carries this season. Expect both players to participate on Monday night.
Cowboys offense struggling: After scoring 24 points in the season-opening victory against the New York Giants, the Cowboys have totaled just 23 points the last two weeks. You can point to any number of reasons for the struggles, from lack of a running game to an inconsistent offensive line to the playmakers — Dez Bryant and Miles Austin mainly — not getting enough touches.
Carr vs. Marshall: In the last two games against the Cowboys, Brandon Marshall has nine catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns. But Brandon Carr wasn’t defending him. Carr is a big cornerback who can use his power to redirect receivers off their routes. It should be a good one-on-one matchup between the two players. Jay Cutler was questioned about targeting Marshall too much this season. Is it too much?
Bears pass rush is deadly: The Bears lead the NFL with 14 sacks, with 10.5 of the sacks coming from the front four. The Bears don’t blitz a lot, instead asking the front four of Israel Idonije, Henry Melton, Stephen Paea and Julius Peppers to bring the pressure. The Cowboys’ offensive line has allowed seven sacks this season, including four last week in the victory over Tampa Bay. The Cowboys’ front has struggled, with tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith combining for 12 penalties.
Where is Witten? Jason Witten, who leads the NFL with five drops, says he’s healthy and doesn’t make any excuses for his slow start. Tony Romo’s favorite target is going through a tough stretch right now. Is this the start of a decline for Witten or just a bad stretch?
Where is Urlacher? Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has no tackles for loss and, based on the coaches’ stats, is tied for the team lead with 21 total tackles. Some believe Urlacher is on the decline, but this is a game where he needs to establish himself as a force.
Dallas Cowboys’ outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is not expected to play Monday night against the Bears with a shoulder injury that has forced him to miss all week of practice.
Spencer remains on the injury report as “questionable” to play but sources inside Valley Ranch suggest the sixth-year pro will not be able to face Chicago this week.
That means Victor Butler will likely get the start. And while he’s been a steady pass-rusher at times, the Cowboys have always wondered just how effective he would be as a full-time player having to stop the run.
Look for the Bears to test him early and often, especially if Matt Forte plays. Chicago head coach Lovie Smith called Forte a game-time decision to play, after missing last week with a high-ankle sprain. Michael Bush is a big, physical runner and will get some carries, whether or not Forte plays.
Spencer is off to a good start this year, with two sacks, and a team-high nine quarterback pressures. Spencer is second on the defense with 29 tackles.
In a limited role, Butler has two tackles this year and one quarterback pressure.
If Spencer is indeed out, the Cowboys will be very thin at outside linebacker, especially if Alex Albright misses another game with a stinger injury. Albright is also questionable to play and was limited all week in practice. Rookie linebacker Kyle Wilber will likely get a few more reps this week as well.
IRVING, Texas – In addition to being the Dallas Cowboys’ first Monday Night Football game of the season and the first football contest of October, Monday’s matchup will also support a greater cause.
Before the game, Cirque Du Soleil will be performing three mini-acts from its critically acclaimed “Kooza” show on the East Plaza stage at 6:45 p.m. for 15 minutes at Cowboys Stadium. Other entertainment in the East Plaza will include the piano playing of Jason Dee Williams and his band from 7:10-7:40 p.m.
A free zip line and mechanical bull ride are among the new additions provided in the expanded Kids Zone in the West Plaza this year. Also included are more inflatable games, face painting, balloon animals and the Play 60 kids’ workout area.
The Texas Boys Choir, comprised of 50 youth members from Fort Worth, will sing the national anthem.
In sticking with the theme of breast cancer awareness and breast cancer awareness month, players, coaches, cheerleaders and officials will wear pink on their uniforms during the game.
Every home game will have its own theme, with Halloween coming next for the Oct. 28 matchup against the Giants.
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The best number Tony Romo can reach this week is 3. We all know that. We all know the top priority will be for Romo to lead his team a victory, put this team at 3-1 heading into the bye week.
For those who care about nothing else, the rest of this won’t matter much in the short term.
But Tony Romo is quietly moving up the charts on the Cowboys’ all-time passing charts.
With one good performance here Monday night against the Bears, Romo has a chance to surpass Danny White in three prominent passing categories.
Romo currently ranks fourth on the Cowboys’ list in passing yards with 21,675. He’s just 284 yards away from White’s mark of 21,959.
He’s third in franchise history in completions with 1,742 and needs just 20 to pass White (1,761) for second place.
Romo is tied for third with Roger Staubach for third most passing touchdowns at 153, just two behind White at 155.
So against the Bears, if Romo can complete 20 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns, not only would be quite a performance and one that would likely lead the team to a victory, he’d move into second place in completions, second in touchdowns and third in passing yards.
Troy Aikman is the Cowboys’ leader in those categories with 2,898 completions for 32,942 yards and 165 touchdowns.
Romo has a good chance to surpass Aikman for the most touchdown passes in franchise history later this season, currently trailing by only 12.
While an earlier source had said that Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer would play tonight against the Chicago Bears despite missing practice all week with a strained pectoral, a source with direct knowledge of the situation later confirmed Spencer would not play.
Spencer, a key cog in the NFL’s top-ranked defense, is officially listed as questionable.
Spencer, a former first-round pick playing this season under a franchise tag tender, has been a force during the Cowboys’ 2-1 start. He ranks second on the team in tackles (29, according to coaches’ film review) and sacks (two) and leads the Cowboys with nine quarterback hurries and two tackles for losses.
Rob Ryan’s defense will be missing three starters, including strong safety Barry Church, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles tendon in the Week 3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who had yet to play this season due to a high ankle sprain, might be able to return after the Cowboys’ upcoming bye. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman will miss his second consecutive game with a hyperextended knee.
Five storylines to watch in tonight’s Cowboys-Bears game. What will tomorrow’s headlines read?
The old Jason Witten
He promised the old Jason Witten would be back last week. He wasn’t. This week is another chance. There is no way one of the franchise’s most respected players, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, can struggle again. This shouldn’t be an every-week thing, right?
Kicking to Hester
The Cowboys had the second-best punt return defense in the NFL through the first two weeks. But they have a new punter for this game against the Bears and Devin Hester. It’s up to Brian Moorman to kick directionally and high. And on kickoffs, Dan Bailey, who has four touchbacks on 11 kickoffs this year, said he is making it a personal challenge to neutralize Hester.
For two games, the offensive line has been battled to a standstill at best, which might be putting it too kindly. Now the Bears come in with a front four that is one of the NFL’s best at getting sacks by itself, not often needing extra rushers. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are running for only 3.5 yards per carry, 23rd in the NFL (same as the Bears).
The Cowboys are already down a safety (Barry Church), cut another at the start of the week (Mana Silva), and merely hoped to get Gerald Sensabaugh over a calf strain in time to play tonight. After that? A novice starter (Danny McCray). And their best corner (Brandon Carr).
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown six interceptions. The Cowboys’ Tony Romo had two fumbles and an interception last week. This is a game with potential for takeaways on both sides. The Bears already have nine, so they’re plus-3 for the season. The Cowboys? Minus-3.
RELATED: KEYS TO VICTORY – Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears
The Cowboys and Chicago Bears have a lot in common besides their 2-1 records. They both feature stingy defenses and offensive lines that struggle to protect their quarterbacks. Now, the two teams face each other Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
The Cowboys’ offensive line resembled a sieve the last two games. Against Seattle and Tampa Bay, defenders routinely crashed the backfield. Quarterback Tony Romo has been sacked five times in the last eight quarters and hit on 10 other occasions. It’s uncertain if the punishment has had a cumulative effect on Romo’s performance. But it’s not good. And against a Bears defense that collected a league -high14 sacks after three weeks, Romo could be in danger if the pass protection doesn’t improve.
Do better on first down
Jason Garrett has repeatedly said he doesn’t want his offense playing behind the chains. In other words, he’d like to avoid unfavorable down-and-distance situations in the early stages of each series. But this season the Cowboys haven’t. After three weeks they are among the least efficient teams on first down, averaging four or more yards only 42.7 percent of the time. That needs to improve if Dallas has designs on being a productive offense.
This season, Rob Ryan’s defense seems a bit tamer. The Cowboys coordinator has dialed back the blitzes. But this week he should consider attacking at will. The Bears’ line is vulnerable, having yielded 11 sacks, the third-highest total in the NFL. They have also allowed 20 knockdowns. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler has expressed frustration with shoddy line play and it has affected his performance. In a loss to Green Bay, when he was sacked seven times, he completed 41 percent of his pass attempts.
Improve special teams play
The Cowboys’ special teams play this season has left a lot to be desired. Against Tampa Bay, they nearly allowed a punt to be blocked for the second consecutive game. Two other times, they had 10 men on the field. Dallas needs to correct its mistakes quickly. The Bears feature Devin Hester, one of the most dynamic return specialists in NFL history. He’s capable of making a game-changing play and the Cowboys can’t afford to let that happen.
IRVING — For the first time with Tony Romo as quarterback, the Cowboys are coming off back-to-back games with under 300 yards.
They did not rush for 50 yards in either game.
They couldn’t score more than one touchdown in either game.
Romo’s passer rating sunk to the mid-70s.
But they got a split out of the two games against Seattle and Tampa Bay, so at 2-1 going into tonight’s game against the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys’ belief in their offense remains.
"My confidence doesn’t wane," coach Jason Garrett said. "I believe in the players. I believe in what we do. We just have to do it better."
The 2-1 record is what keeps Romo going, too.
After throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns in a sparkling season opener against the Giants, he has thrown only one touchdown pass and has been intercepted twice.
But he is not frustrated.
"No. It’s about winning and losing," he said. "That’s what it comes down to. You want to execute to the highest level each week. But at the same time, we know that getting a win is as important as anything else. And all the other stuff is just about getting better.
"But if you lose, you’re still going to have the same process. If you win, you still have the same process about trying to figure out how to be better the next week as a player, as a unit, as an offense or defense, whatever it is."
Garrett does make an allowance for the Seahawks and Buccaneers’ effective defensive lines, which gave headaches to the Cowboys’ still-developing offensive line.
But he said those won’t be the last two good fronts the Cowboys face, and they’ll see another one tonight when the Bears bring one of the NFL’s most productive front four in terms of sacks.
"We played some good defenses. There’s no question about that," Garrett said. "They are good on the front, they have good rushers and good linebackers, and each of those teams have good cover guys. But you’re going to face that every week. There are 13 other teams that are good in those areas, too."
For the Cowboys, the troubling spots are penalties and the way they are executing plays.
They have 12 false starts, five holding penalties (plus one declined) and two delay-of-games in three games.
Romo has been sacked seven times.
On top of that, his favorite target, tight end Jason Witten, has five drops. That is a normally reliable — and important — part of the Cowboys offense.
"It’s a combination of a lot of things," Romo said. "Penalties, negative plays. We need to do the little things better. That will help us a lot because we’re already doing enough good things. We just need to minimize the stuff that you can control. The stuff that should be stuff that we’re good at."
The Cowboys scored in the 30s or more four times last year. It was five times in each of the previous two years, four in 2008 and eight times in 2007.
The last time they went over 30 was at Tampa Bay last year, five games ago.
Could one good scoring half or game spring the Cowboys?
"Sure, but I don’t think we like to think about it that way: ‘Hey, let’s go score 40,’" Garrett said. "Let’s go execute ball plays. If we execute ball plays and do things the right way on a consistent basis, our offense will be the consistent offense and the good offense that we’ve seen in the past."
And paired with what right now is the league’s No. 1 defense? Defensive end Marcus Spears can imagine.
"We’re 2-1, so they’re doing something to put us in position to win games," he said. "And we just want to continue to support them. But when we’re rolling and they’re rolling and our special teams are rolling, we’re tough to beat. We see their work. There’s no criticism from us. We see what type of guys are over there. When it really starts firing like a well-oiled machine, it’ll be something beautiful to watch."
Each time Moorman boots the ball across the field against the Bears, the most dangerous returner in football history will await each punt. Devin Hester’s 12 career punt return touchdowns rank first all-time.
“He’s obviously one of the best, if not the best, in the league,” Moorman said. “You’ve got to have a lot of respect for him and what he has accomplished and what he can accomplish every time he touches the ball. It’s obviously something we’re talking about and we’re going to try to prepare for.”
Hester’s only had six returns this season and hasn’t taken one back for a score. But one of those punt returns went for more than 23 yards, and Chicago coach Lovie Smith said the game changer is still capable of breaking one loose.
Hester returned two punts for touchdowns last season and three the year before. Since 2007, when he returned four of his 42 punt returns for touchdowns, punters started to learn their lesson. Hester’s never returned more than 33 punts in his previous four seasons, as punters stay away from the game changer.
“As a returner, it’s just hard to be special and have a touchdown on returns every game,” Smith said. “You go through some spells where it doesn’t happen. You get that momentum going, then you run off a couple games. Not scoring right now, I can see why you would question where Devin is right now, but he’s a young player still, and I still believe his best returns are ahead of him.”
The last time Hester went a whole season without returning a kick or a punt for a touchdown was in 2009, when his season was limited with a calf injury. After the 2007 season, Hester also moved into a more permanent role in the offense as a receiver.
But Smith said teams are still cautious when they send the ball deep to Hester.
“I know Devin hasn’t taken one back to the house yet this year, but he’s been close and getting better and better,” Smith said. “He’s just another weapon to try to get points on the board. We put a big emphasis on playing special teams around here. Guys know if they can just give Devin a little bit of space, there’s a chance that they can see something special.”
Moorman’s not the only one who has to prepare for the dynamic returner. Kicker Dan Bailey said he’s been more consistent on his kickoffs, but even if he kicks it deep against Chicago, Hester could still take the ball out.
Hester’s recorded seven combined kick returns of more than 40 yards in his two previous seasons, including one touchdown. He’s averaged 27.3 yards per kick return this year, taking four of his seven returns for more than 20 yards. Bailey said he knows at any point Hester can record his first kick return touchdown of the season.
“He’s one of the best ever,” Bailey said. “He’s that guy that could be nine deep and is still going to bring it out. That’s just his mentality. I’m going to take it as a personal challenge and try to go head-to-head with him and eliminate his chances as much as I can. Hopefully as a team we all can do that even more, collectively.”
The last time Hester played the Cowboys in 2010, he was more dangerous as a receiver than a returner, catching four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. He only returned one punt for negative yardage, while Dez Bryant returned a punt for a touchdown against the Bears.
The Cowboys will need to swarm the returner again if they want to keep him in check. Special teams ace Danny McCray will likely be starting at safety this week, but head coach Jason Garrett said they may need him to stay on certain special teams units to account for Hester.
“Hester is a big-time returner,” Garrett said. “Everybody knows that. Might go down as one of the greats ever in this league. So, it’ll be a real challenge for us. We’ll need all hands on deck.”