NEW ORLEANS – Earlier this week, I surprised some of my cohosts on our daily podcast "Cowboys Break" when I suggested that perhaps the Saints were indeed better than the Cowboys.
Forget the early records, and which team was favored in the game. I pointed out that maybe we haven't seen enough of the schedule to get a good read on either team.
Maybe, just maybe, the Saints were still better than the Cowboys. That's at least what I wondered.
Well, come to find out, they aren't.
And that's the really sad part of the Cowboys going back home from New Orleans with their first loss of the season. No way should they have lost this game, yet they found a way – actually several ways – to lose to a team that really wasn't better.
Now, I'm not saying the Saints aren't a good team. And with Drew Brees coming back, they will be right there in the mix. But with Brees out of the game, and an average-at-best replacement back there in Teddy Bridgewater, it was set up perfectly for the Cowboys to take advantage.
Yet, the offense forgot to show up and execute.
It would be easy to finger point at Kellen Moore as the play-caller, and I'm sure he deserves some of the blame here. You score 10 points when you've been averaging over 32 points per game, yeah, you're going to take some heat.
But as I sit here and recall the game, I honestly can't think of a ton of times where they just absolutely made a bad play-call.
Most of this mess was on the players and not executing. Yeah, if you want to put a few on the refs and replay officials, go ahead. Just remember, the Saints seemed to also get a few bad calls. Overall, I don't think this crew will grade out very well, but that's beside the point.
The biggest problem Sunday night was the Cowboys' inability to do anything on offense – outside of the magical third quarter, of course.
Hey, give Saints head coach Sean Payton credit for deferring after winning the opening coin toss. We all thought he was just doing what most coaches do and elect to get the ball in the second half to either pad an existing lead or get back in the game with a score. Who knew that Payton was actually trying to limit Dak Prescott's attempts in the third quarter, knowing that he becomes Jedi-like and doesn't throw an incompletion.
OK, so maybe I'm kidding a little. Or maybe not. Either way, the fact the Cowboys got just one possession in the third quarter was big – mainly because they couldn't function in any other quarter of play.
And when they did, the most unlikely of characters were making mistakes. Jason Witten? Seriously, what a time for his sixth career lost fumble? Ezekiel Elliott isn't really known as a fumbler, and I'm not really sure this was one either, but the replay officials said it was.
Honestly, I kind of thought the ball was coming out when his elbow hit the ground. Then again, it's such a gray area between the ball "coming out" and "being out." That was one where whatever the call was on the field was going to be the call, and it was a big change of momentum for the Cowboys.
But again, that's on the players.
It was on Dak for not hitting Randall Cobb in the back of the end zone early in the game. It was on both Dak and Cobb for missing a big third down in the fourth quarter. Dak's pass was behind his receiver, but I put more of that on Cobb. While it would be nice to keep running and make a big gain, the most important part of the play is making the catch. He didn't stop and catch it and therefore that was another missed opportunity.
And in the end, the officials flagged Amari Cooper again for an offensive pass interference. I didn't really like the first call, and couldn't tell from my viewpoint about the second one. But they've already called it once. There's no way he can make it possible to get flagged again. But he did.
And what about Dak for taking a crucial sack at the 3-yard line with no timeouts?
Add it all up, and the answer is 10 points. That's certainly not enough, but sadly, 13 points would've been.
That's how great the defense played. Any time you hold teams without a touchdown, you should win.
And you should definitely win when you do that and you're the better team. The Cowboys, in my opinion, were a better football team than the Saints.
But they didn't win it. We'll see down the road just how costly this might be.