ARLINGTON, Texas – Immediately following Sunday night's game on our regular "First Take" segment, where we offer up quick thoughts on camera, I let the powers that be know I was about to utter a cuss word on the air.
Nothing major, but to me, it was the only way to describe this game. And my colleague, Bryan Broaddus, did the same, and I kinda liked his version better.
But this game was an old-fashioned ass-whipping. That's really the only way you can say it. It's the way this league is. Last year, the Cowboys where the whipping boys in New Orleans and they returned the favor this time around.
The Cowboys got the ball first, drove down the field taking what the Saints gave them and scored a quick touchdown. And it only got worse from there.
Sure, you can say the Saints made things somewhat dicey in the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys never lost a two-touchdown lead and even extended it to the final tune of 38-17.
In this league, that's a beat-down, and that's exactly what the Cowboys gave the Saints.
Let me be clear about this – in no way am I saying I called this or expected it. I didn't at all. If there was a beating to be given out, I kind of thought it would come from Drew Brees and the Saints. And you know what? I don't apologize for that.
This is a "show-me" league. We've seen this football team play games like this for a long time and very, very rarely do the Cowboys have a one-sided win like this. And the Saints, a team that was 1-2 coming in here, were two plays away from being 3-0. So to think they would get smoked like this, or even beat was unfathomable to me.
But if you go through each aspect of the game, it was pretty evident what happened here at AT&T Stadium. Let's go through them real quick, shall we?
Quarterback: This isn't about their place in NFL history. It's not about where they rank among today's greats. This was about Sunday night, and that being said, Tony Romo out-played Drew Brees. Plain and simple. This game isn't about the great plays you make, but the bad ones you avoid. Romo did both in this game and was pretty flawless with three picks and no interceptions. Brees certainly wasn't bad – his only interception was tipped – but to be shut out in the first half is on his shoulders. The Saints were too far behind in the second half and couldn't catch up. I think Brees is one of the best quarterbacks of all-time and a top-3 passer still today. But on this night, he was the second-best quarterback on the field, and that was a difference in the game.
Running Back: Since I'm on deadline, why waste time here. DeMarco Murray didn't just out-play the Saints runners, but he's outplayed and outran every other running back in the NFL after four games. He's in beast-mode and he's the reason the Cowboys are 3-1. This one was his best game of the year because he didn't have a fumble and scored twice this week. I'm not saying Murray is the NFL's best back right now, but after a quarter of the season, no one is playing better.
Wide Receivers: All I heard this week was how great this rookie Brandin Cooks is. You know, he might develop into a real gem, but I didn't notice him much in this game. Cooks is supposed to be that complementary guy who takes advantage of the fact teams zero in on Jimmy Graham. That didn't happen for the Saints. It happened for the Cowboys with Terrance Williams. You knew Rob Ryan would try to take Dez Bryant out of the game, and that's what happened early on. But Williams made him pay with a six-catch, 77-yard effort with two touchdowns. Then Dez got into the act as well, including that game-clinching score.
Tight Ends: You know, this one is actually pretty close to a wash. Now, comparing Graham and Jason Witten is unfair because they have different roles. Graham had eight catches for 86 yards, but after three quarters, it was four catches for 42 yards with a lost fumble. He got a touchdown in the fourth and some other garbage-time catches. Witten on the other hand caught all five passes thrown his way for 61 yards, including a big third-down reception when the momentum was swinging to the Saints. He had a huge block on the edge for Murray's first touchdown. The fact that this one is even up for debate, considering their roles for the team, is a win for the Cowboys.
Offensive Line: The Saints' front wasn't bad at all, but the Cowboys were better. That was evident in the running game with the Dallas rushing for 190 yards, including 149 from Murray. The Saints had 104 with 62 of that coming on one nice run by Khiry Robinson.
Defense: Now the intent of this wasn't to run through every position. Clearly, the defense outplayed Rob Ryan's group with the Saints. They stopped a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and shut him out in the first half. The secondary played without Morris Claiborne for most of the game and still fought to make plays on the ball and prevent the big play for the most part. The way they rallied to the ball as a group and forced turnovers was impressive all game.
Kicker: There's a reason the Cowboys picked Dan Bailey to be the kicker to begin the 2011 season. Shayne Graham was one of the other four kickers in that group. Bailey is on fire right now, making 29 straight. Graham had a costly miss in the second quarter with the Saints looking to get on the board.
Coaching: Hey, Sean Payton has won a Super Bowl. But he proved he's not above the occasional bone-head play. It's fourth down and his team is behind by 14 points. He takes the ball out of Drew Brees' hands and goes for the fake punt with Thomas Morstead? The punter over Brees with the game on the line? If you're going to go for the first down give yourself a chance. It's not like the Cowboys are going to be going for the block there, so they're looking for a fake. There were some other questionable calls when he went for a first down over punting, and times he punted when it seemed like he could've gone for it.
Payton is a great coach, but he wasn't great tonight. You guys all know that if Jason Garrett would've had his team down 24-0 at the half people would be screaming that he didn't have his team ready to play. So up 24, he must have done something right here.
Is that enough? You can even say the fans were great, too. That was something of a question mark considering the number of Saints fans expected to be here. But it was evident the majority of the announced 91,176 were rooting for the home team. And they certainly had plenty to cheer about. This was no repeat of the 49ers game. In more ways than one.
So what does this beat-down really mean? It means the [embedded_ad]
Cowboys are 3-1 after the first quarter of the season. That's really all it means.
The glass half-full people will point that out right now; no team in the NFL has more wins than the Cowboys.
The glass half-empty folks will tell you the Cowboys have yet to beat – or even play – a team with a winning record.
None of that matters here as we round out September. Just line up and beat the teams in front of you.
Whether you rally from 21 down to win, or whip a team by 21, they all count the same. Something tells me, though, this ass-kicking was a lot more fun.