NEW ORLEANS – If you're looking for finger-pointing, you're not going to find it here.
In light of a 12-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints, it'd make plenty of sense if that was the case. The Cowboys fell to 3-1, losing their first game of the season on a night when the opposition didn't score a touchdown.
Rather than focus on a struggling offense, though, the refrain was consistent throughout the Dallas defense – there was more that could have been done.
"We could've made another turnover. We could've scored points on defense," said Jaylon Smith. "We want to be elite, and if we're not doing that enough, then we can't consider ourselves an elite defense."
It's an admirable sentiment from the Cowboys' captain, but it doesn't feel like it holds much water. The Dallas defense played arguably its best game of the season on Sunday night, and by any objective measure their effort against New Orleans was a winning one.
The Cowboys limited the Saints to 266 yards of offense. They sacked Teddy Bridgewater five times, and they held Alvin Kamara to a manageable 89 yards. They came away with their first interception of the season. And again, they held a potent New Orleans offense out of the end zone, forcing the Saints to settle for field goals on all four trips into the red zone.
Even still, in the defensive half of a dejected postgame locker room, no takers.
"You can't point a finger at anybody," said Robert Quinn. "You say they played poorly, then we could've played better. It's a team effort. We can't point a finger. We stick together, we look at what we did great, what we did bad."
Speaking of things they did great, that feels like a pretty apt description of Quinn. Through two games, it's becoming increasingly obvious the Cowboys made a good decision in trading for the former Miami Dolphin during the offseason.
In just his second game back from suspension, Quinn wreaked havoc on Saints left tackle Terron Armstead. The veteran pass rusher batted down Bridgewater's second pass of the game, and he only heated up from there. He sacked Bridgewater twice, he drew a holding flag on Armstead and he threw in another three tackles for good measure.
That's got to feel pretty good for a guy that many considered past his prime just a few short months ago, but Quinn wasn't interested in hearing it.
"I would give up all my stats for a W, but it doesn't work that way," he said.
It truly does not, and the Cowboys will remind you the defense played a hand in that. There were missed tackles that allowed Kamara to wriggle free for extra yards. The Saints converted 6-of-14 third downs, including two that allowed them to kill off precious seconds in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
So rather than focus on what they did well, they'll focus on what could have been better. And then they'll move on.
"It fuels us, because we have to do more," Smith said. "In order to be an elite defense, we have to take the ball away, we've got to score points on defense – 12 points is too much. So we have to continue to dial in on our details and get better."