ARLINGTON, Texas – Say whatever you want about what the Cowboys were able to do on Thursday night. To me, this game was on Tuesday.
And I can't say I knew it at that time. In fact, I thought Tuesday's comments in the locker room might actually lead to a more lopsided finish than I even expected.
But as it turned out, DeMarcus Lawrence – as he's done all year long – carried this defense on his back, and his mouth.
We all kind of looked sideways when he said the key to beating the Saints and ending their 10-game winning streak was to "hit 'em in the mouth" and get them out of their comfort zone. From there, you have to "choke them out" and more or less put the game away.
Well, isn't that exactly what the Cowboys were able to do?
The Saints didn't get a first down until the final play of the first quarter. They were stopped for three-and-outs on the first two drives of the game and Drew Brees and this high-powered offense found themselves down 10-0.
In football terms, that's getting hit in the mouth.
But it's not like the Cowboys have an offense that can just bury teams. And sure enough, by the fourth quarter, it was a nail-biter and the defense was needed to finish the job once again.
And not sure if you call it a clear-cut "choke out," but the Cowboys defense put the game away with an interception. And how fitting was it that Jourdan Lewis, the guy who nearly had a pick off the turf in the first quarter, came through with an interception on a similar pass to pretty much seal the win.
We knew way back in the first month of the season that the dynamic of this team had changed. The identity of the Cowboys had switched to the defensive side of the ball. That was pretty clear and it has even gotten more one-sided now that Leighton Vander Esch is playing at his level, which should be good enough to win both Defensive Rookie of the Year and earn a Pro Bowl spot.
But after this game, can we take this defense to a higher level?
This is no longer just a really good defense that has carried the Cowboys to a four-game winning streak. What we saw Thursday was a performance by a defense that should now be considered in the category of elite.
From the D-line to the secondary, it seemed like every single player on the defense was ballin' out Thursday.
Lawrence set the tone on Tuesday, but he's been leading this group all season long. Tyrone Crawford seems to get overlooked every game, but what he's doing in the middle can't be ignored. To me, he might be the most underrated player on the entire team right now (although Joe Looney would get some votes as well).
Those linebackers are just completely off the charts right now. Both Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith just fly to the ball, make plays and stop the ball immediately. It's not like they're getting dragged a few yards down the field. When these two guys get to where they want to go, the play is usually over. Smith did that on the goal line with Alvin Kamara on a play that definitely impacted the overall outcome.
And then the secondary? Brees only got 127 passing yards and Michael Thomas, one of the NFL's best receivers, had just five catches for 40 yards.
The stat sheet credited the Cowboys with six pass deflections – all of them going to the four cornerbacks that played, including two each for Byron Jones and Anthony Brown. Not only were they covering their man, but getting their hands on the ball.
Just an impressive performance all the way around. When you think that it was the lowest offensive total by the Saints since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006, it's really just a remarkable performance by a defense that has to be in the conversation as the best in the league.
I guess you could also call it unbelievable, but that wouldn't be entirely true.
DeMarcus Lawrence believed it could happen and gave us a detailed description how this night could go.
Leave it to his teammates to actually follow through with the script.