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Short-handed defense just not good enough in loss to Cowboys

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant catches a 17-yard touchdown pass in front of Bears cornerback Tracy Porter (21) that gave the Cowboys a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter. (Ron Jenkins/AP)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Bears safety Adrian Amos didn’t need any expert analysis to know what went wrong this time.

“They beat us tonight — that’s all I know,” Amos said after the Bears allowed 447 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. “Everything we expected them to do, they did. We just didn’t stop it. They did the things we practiced [against]. Little things, man. I know when we watch the film, we’re going go be disappointed in ourselves in how we came out in the first half and see things that we practiced that we just didn’t execute.”

A short-handed Bears defense seemed to be feeling the effects of playing without five starters — linebacker Danny Trevathan, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerback Kyle Fuller, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and nickel back Bryce Callahan. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott gained 21 yards on a simple first-and-10 run on the Cowboys’ first play from scrimmage, setting a tone for a problematic first half for the Bears.

“That’s one of the plays where we just have to execute,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who led the Bears with 12 tackles. “Be in your gap. Be where you’re supposed to be and make that play.”

Unfortunately for the Bears (0-3), they had issues like that most of the game. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott was not sacked and rarely pressured. He completed 19-of-24 passes for 248 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 123.6 rating — his highest of the season.

“We’re just not executing like we need to,” Freeman said. “We knew their scheme. We knew what they were going to do. They just out-executed us.”

The Cowboys (2-1) scored on all four first-half drives — three touchdowns and a field goal to put the Bears in a 24-3 hole. The Cowboys gained 274 yard and had 19 first downs. Prescott was 12-of-15 for 139 yards and a 105.3 passer rating.

“Not very good,” coach John Fox said when asked about the defense’s performance. “Not [good] enough to win. Anytime you give up 31, it’s not good enough. We have to look at that hard and over-teach them on how to do it and just get better.”

So far, that has proven to be easier said than done.

“What it really comes down to is playing assignment football,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “Staying in our gaps, playing your technique. Making sure that we’re putting ourselves in position to execute our plas. In some areas we were lacking and that’s where they took advantage of it.”

The injuries are not an excuse.

“Can’t dwell on that,” Freeman said. “It’s the NFL. You’re going to have guys get hurt. you’ve got to have guys step up and fill those roles.”

But as much as the Bears want to believe in the “next-man-up” philosophy, it’s obvious the injuries are taking a toll. Will Sutton is a try-hard player who has been productive at times. But the Bears miss Goldman in the middle.

“Tremendously,” Hicks said. “You definitely miss a stout player such as Eddie Goldman. But I will say this: Will Sutton definitely brought his hard hat and came to work today and did the best job he could.”

For what it’s worth, the Bears’ defense was better in the third quarter, holding the Cowboys scoreless on three series. Jacoby Glenn forced wide receiver Terrance Williams to fumble — after a 47-yard gain to the Bears’ 22-yard line — and Amos recovered. That ended a streak of 173 snaps without a takeaway since Tracy Porter’s interception against the Texans on the seventh play from scrimmage in the season opener.

The offense responded with an 11-play, 63-yard touchdown drive, with Brian Hoyer hitting Zach Miller for a two-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal. The defense forced a punt and a missed 47-yard field goal on the Cowboys’ next two possessions.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Bears’ best offensive possession of the game occured after a defensive takeaway. But with young players and injuries, the defense will be challenged to consistently provide that kind of impetus for an offense that needs a lot of help.

“I don’t think we’re shaken,” Tracy Porter said. “We’re frustrated. We know we’re a lot better defensively than what we showed today and what we’ve shown the last two weeks. We know the talent we have on this defense. But talent alone doesn’t win. We have to execute and play together.”