FRISCO, Texas -- It's an easy question without an easy answer. At least for the Dallas Cowboys' front office, coaches and players.
How has this happened?
This being 6-7. This being a second three-game losing streak this season. This being a coach's job security being questioned every day. This being an owner and general manager criticizing his coach and the staff one week and praising him and it four days later. This being an offense that can't do anything right after the first drive. This being a defense that can't tackle or make a stop when it matters. This being a special-teams unit that can't make a field goal attempt.
The 2019 Cowboys' season was not supposed to be about scraping into the playoffs by winning a bad NFC East and maybe winning a playoff game. This Cowboys season was supposed to be delivering upon the success of a strong finish to the 2018 season with many coaches, including Jason Garrett, and players, including quarterback Dak Prescott, in prove-it seasons.
Instead, the season has come to this: a 6-7 mess.
"Luckily for us, we're still in the hunt," Cowboys center Travis Frederick said. "It's not very often that you're 6-7 and got a shot at the playoffs. It's important for us to go back and work as hard as we can this next week and be able to come out with a win."
The issue has not been working hard; Prescott called the preparation for the Bears game the best of the season. Finding the solution is the hard part.
Nobody really knows where to start.
"Can't put a finger on it. I wish I could right now," Prescott said. "If I could, obviously, we wouldn't be in this situation. We would be getting over this and out of this slump. But that's the most frustrating part, that 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."
Said wide receiver Amari Cooper: "Lack of effort, no, game planning, no. If I knew the answer to that, I would tell the answer to everybody else, then we could go out and execute and do what we got to do to win. I know it is not a lack of effort. I see how hard we all try."
Stephen A.: Garrett needs to be gone now
Stephen A. Smith isn't bashful with his thoughts about Jason Garrett, saying he needs to be fired after the Cowboys' disappointing loss to the Bears.
Garrett said he thought the Cowboys played "hard," against Chicago, "we just didn't play well."
There has been no answer to in-game adversity. When one thing goes wrong, like a third-down penalty that keeps alive an opponent's drive that ends in a touchdown, the Cowboys buckle.
"One of the issues we have on our team is guys are trying to do too much," Garrett said. "Sometimes that creates problems, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And we have to just get back into being more disciplined down in and down out. That's the way you handle adversity. You execute."
Garrett said after the Bears loss that he would not have a way of knowing if his uncertain status was weighing on the players. Undoubtedly, with some it has. With others, it probably hasn't. A locker room is always gray when people look for black and white.
Asked if players are still buying what Garrett and the coaches are selling, linebacker Jaylon Smith said, "I believe so. I only have two eyes, but from everything I know as being a leader and being a captain, guys are not down. We're frustrated. But we know what we have. We just got to do it."
This season is shaping up as one of the most disappointing of any in the Jerry Jones era. In 1994, there was disappointment in losing the NFC championship to the San Francisco 49ers, but at least that team was in position to win three consecutive Super Bowls.
In 2007 and 2016, the Cowboys let home-field advantage in the postseason slip with divisional-round losses to the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, respectively, but at least Dallas made the playoffs.
As far as disappointments go, the 2008 season is most like 2019. That roster was full of talent, but by the end of the season the Cowboys were fractured from within over pettiness and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
This team has not shown the same internal fraying, but the disappointment is just as palpable. Dallas has the league's top passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver. Statistically, the Cowboys had a top-10 defense entering the Chicago game.
But it all rings hollow without victories.
"A win is so huge in this league," Cooper said. "They're not easy to come by. Even if a team is 15-1, those 15 wins, not many of them are going to be easy to come by. So I think one [win] will definitely get us back on track. And we just have to go out there and get it."
If the Cowboys just knew how.