ARLINGTON, Texas -- For two-and-a-half quarters Sunday, the Bears more or less neutralized Dallas Cowboys star Micah Parsons.
But a player of Parson's caliber needs just one opportunity to wreck a game. That opportunity presented itself with the Cowboys leading 35-23, and mental errors by two of the Bears' best players allowed it to happen.
Facing a third-and-17, quarterback Justin Fields needed to make a play to keep the chains moving and hopes of a comeback victory alive. Fields moved left out of the pocket and flung a sidearm rocket to running back David Montgomery in the middle of the field. Montgomery made one man miss but was stripped by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch just short of the sticks.
That's where Parsons came in. The Cowboys star pounced on the fumble but was never touched down. Fields ran over and jumped over Parsons, believing the play was dead. It wasn't. Parsons got up and raced 36 yards to the end zone to put the Cowboys up 19 and end the Bears' comeback hopes.
After the game, Fields and Montgomery each took blame for the game-changing play.
"I thought he was down," Montgomery said after the Bears' 49-29 loss. "I definitely should have chased the ball. I was more disappointed in myself that I dropped the ball. It just goes to show that I got to be better for my teammates."
While Montgomery failed to chase the ball after coughing it up, Fields had the best chance to down Parsons.
"It was my fault for just hopping over him," Fields said after the game. "I could have just tagged him. I can't tell you the last time I made a tackle. Just got to be aware in that situation and just tag him and make sure he's down."
Fields was adamant that every NFL game has "ups and downs" and that one play didn't decide the outcome Sunday in Dallas.
But it's hard to debate the importance of Parson's play.
The Cowboys jumped out to a 28-7 lead Sunday before the Bears ripped off 16 in a row to cut the lead to five. Dallas entered the game ranked second in the NFL in points allowed, but Fields and the Bears' offense got whatever they wanted after a sluggish start.
At 35-23, it appeared the Bears and 'Boys were headed for a shootout that might go down to the wire. Parson's fumble return touchdown made that thought evaporate.
After the game, Parsons said he hesitated for a moment, thinking he was down. But his teammates told him to keep running, so he "went back to his high school days" and took off.
The Bears dug themselves a hole Sunday in Dallas. They almost crawled all the way out before two mistakes by two of their stars created a game-changing play for the Cowboys. Given how the Cowboys rolled over the Bears' defense Sunday, Parson's touchdown was effectively the final nail in the Bears' coffin.
Fields and Montgomery are two of the Bears' leaders. The buck stops with them. Ball security and playing smart football are tent poles of head coach Matt Eberflus' operation. Both failed the test Sunday in Dallas, and it cost the Bears dearly.