ARLINGTON, Texas – Not many people would’ve seen a low-scoring game out of this one, but that’s exactly what transpired. Both defenses were great, including the Cowboys’, who held Drew Brees to 127 passing yards and picked him off to win the game.
Like all games, there are several plays that go unnoticed, or could be overlooked. Still, they play a huge role in the eventual outcome. Let’s look at five plays that changed the direction of this game.
First challenge by the Saints – Not only did the Cowboys defense prove it could make early stops, but the second one also came at the expense of a Saints’ challenge. While head coach Sean Payton clearly thought his receiver Michael Thomas had hauled in a catch that was ruled incomplete, it was not overturned, costing them one of his two challenges in the game. It forced a punt and the Cowboys were able to take advantage and get their only touchdown. Also, the Saints were able to get another challenge reversed later in the game but the first miss left them out of challenges for the rest of the night.
Jones, Smith chase down Kamara – On a third-and-goal from the Cowboys’ 4-yard line in the second quarter, the Saints got the ball out in space to their most dangerous player in Alvin Kamara, who had only Byron Jones to beat. Jones was able to hold him up just long enough for Jaylon Smith to fly in and make the tackle at the 1. That led to fourth down and the Cowboys were able to stop New Orleans for no gain and get the ball back. Both Jones and Smith saved a touchdown and a scoring opportunity for the Saints. Let’s not forget Payton’s decision to ignore the field goal attempt in what ended up a three-point game.
Brown swings momentum back to Dallas – After a gut-wrenching penalty on Randy Gregory wiped out a sack, fumble and recovery for the Cowboys at the Saints’ 35-yard line, the Cowboys were able to regroup on defense and get a big sack off the edge by Anthony Brown, who dropped Brees for an 8-yard loss. The Cowboys were able to get off the field and force a punt, hanging on to a 3-point lead.
Game of inches on the touchback – However many inches Gregory was offside, seemed to be the same amount that Saints’ running back Dwayne Washington was in the end zone when he downed the ball at the 1-yard line. The officials ruled it down there, but after a challenge by the Cowboys, the replay showed part of Washington’s fingers were over the goal line, forcing a touchback. Instead of the Cowboys getting the ball at their 1 with 9:15 to play, they went out to the 20 and were able to chew up more than six minutes off the clock.
Dak’s scramble keeps Brees off the field – For all the great plays Dak Prescott made with his arm, it was an 11-yard run by the quarterback that might’ve won the game. The Cowboys had third-and-10 with 7:22 left and Prescott didn’t have a lot of room to run, but was able to power his way for 11 yards to move the chains. From there, the Cowboys managed to get three more first downs and grind the clock down under three minutes before the Saints took over.