ARLINGTON, Texas – Twelve games have been played in this Cowboys season, but this still feels like unfamiliar territory.
There were the Cowboys, celebrating a fourth-consecutive victory in their locker room. There stood Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott, addressing the throngs of reporters, as is their custom.
And yet, with all due respect to their efforts, it wasn't the Cowboys' offense taking center stage in this win. On this night, the spotlight shifted to their defensive counterparts, who utterly dominated one of the best offenses in football in a 13-10 win.
"They carried us," said Ezekiel Elliott. "I mean, the offense did a good job in the first half, we need to finish better in the red zone, but our defense definitely came out and had a shutout in the first half and they carried us in the second half."
If Elliott needed evidence to back up his claim, he could point to the zero the Cowboys put on the scoreboard after halftime. They went into the break with a 13-0 lead – and that was all they needed to exit AT&T Stadium with a win.
"When the defense plays like that – it was just an incredible game by them against a great offense," said Dak Prescott.
Be sure to give the offense its due. The Cowboys churned out 100 rushing yards against the league's best rushing defense, and they chewed up valuable time of possession. They actually won that battle by a score of 37 minutes to 23 minutes, and they added 13 points to boot.
But when the chips were down, it was the defense that picked up the slack. Whether it was when New Orleans faced a 1st-and-goal at the Dallas 7-yard line and didn't score, or when Jourdan Lewis' interception killed a last-gasp Saints scoring drive, the big plays came from the other side of the ball.
"I must say, the defense played beyond my expectations," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "I think they played like a championship defense."
If that sounds like a back-handed compliment, it's not meant to be. It's just that you don't see defensive domination like that in the modern era of the NFL. And when you do, it's typically coming out of cities like Denver and Jacksonville – not Dallas, where offense has been the Cowboys' ticket to victory for so long.
"Hats off to our defense, man," said Joe Looney. "Against a group like that, you know, Drew Brees, the weapons they have … I mean, you just have to look at them and give those guys all the credit in the world."
That's not to say the Cowboys want this to be a trend. As several players noted, the Cowboys could have won this game convincingly with better execution – as evidenced by their 1-of-5 performance in the red zone.
But in the afterglow of a big win, it was evident: having a defense that can win a game for you definitely isn't a bad thing.
"I love it, honestly," said Elliott. "It's frustrating when we don't play well, it's frustrating when we can't go out there and give them more help, but I think it makes it even better when they go out there and stop the guys and help us out that much more."