For a double-digit blowout win, that sure had its nerve-racking moments, didn't it?
Yes, the Cowboys came away with an impressive 38-17 victory over the Saints in front of 91,176 fans and a national prime time television audience, but with epic collapses still fresh in the memory – anyone care to relive Green Bay or Detroit? – many began to wonder if perhaps an even greater debacle was in store.
The Cowboys went into the fourth quarter with what seemed an insurmountable 31-3 lead, only to watch the Saints fire back with 14 unanswered points early in the final frame. Needless to say, hands were wringing among the Dallas faithful.
Fortunately, however, in the end the Cowboys were able to stop the bleeding, the team again relying on their offense and special teams to secure the much-needed win.
And about that offense … whew! Romo and Co. was firing on all cylinders for most of the night, racking up 447 yards, including 24 first downs, while also winning the time of possession, 32:52 to 25:15.
Running back DeMarco Murray was a workhorse, a virtual man among boys against the New Orleans defense. Time and time again he juked his way around would-be tacklers or simply carried them along for a few extra yards. After racking up 85 yards in the first half, he tacked on 64 more in the second for his fourth 100-yard effort in as many games. He now has 534 rushing yards for the season, easily the NFL's best.
And whatever rust Romo was accused of needing to shake off at the beginning of the season, seems to be long gone. The quarterback scrambled in the pocket, broke loose on a 21-yard run and picked apart a Saints defense that simply had no answer for most of the game. He finished with 262 yards passing, hitting his target on 22 of his 29 attempts, a stellar .759 completion percentage.
The beneficiary of most of Romo's handiwork was second-year wide receiver Terrance Williams, suddenly a rising star. With all-worldly Dez Bryant occupying most of the Saints' attention, Williams had a field day, catching six passes for team-high 77 yards and two touchdowns.
He wasn't alone, though. Eight different players recorded a catch in the game for the Cowboys with Jason Witten catching five balls for 61 yards and Bryant adding three grabs for 44, including a nail-in-the-coffin fourth quarter touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, well, the Dallas defense held up as about as well as can be expected against Drew Breese and the high-powered Saints offense. In fact, through those first three quarters the Cowboys D was downright impressive. Only in the fourth quarter did things get a bit out of hand, as New Orleans finished with 438 yards of offense.
But, even more important than whatever yards were surrendered, Dallas won the turnover battle, posting one interception and two fumble recoveries while the Cowboys offense didn't let loose of the ball once.
The first half was all Cowboys as Romo and his offense took the opening possession at their own 20 and covered the distance in a clock-eating 7:57. Romo mixed in passes to five different receivers with Murray balancing out the series with five carries.
In a play that was vintage Romo, the quarterback scrambled around a collapsing pocket on third-and-3 at his own 43, twice escaping a potential sack, before finding Witten across the middle for a big 16-yard gain. That eventually led to Romo connecting with Williams in the back of the end zone from 6 yards out for an early 7-0 lead.
All in all, the Cowboys dominated the first quarter, with Romo a perfect 9-for-9 on his pass attempts for 86 yards. Meanwhile, Murray totaled 41 yards on 8 carries, a 5.1-yard average, as Dallas totaled a 10:53 time of possession to just 4:07 for the visitors.
After the Cowboys were reminded again just what a weapon Dan Bailey is – the kicker splitting the uprights from 51 yards after his counterpart with the Saints, Shayne Graham, missed from 41 – the Dallas defense stepped up with a key turnover. When Brees attempted to thread a pass into receiver Robert Meachem, linebacker Bruce Carter made an athletic dive to tip the ball before fellow 'backer Justin Durant came down with the prize.
Set up with great field position at the New Orleans 39, the Cowboys offense then needed only two plays to reach paydirt. Romo first hit Lance Dunbar on a perfectly executed screen pass for 24 yards, which was followed by Murray bolting around the right end for the final 15 yards to give Dallas a 17-0 advantage.
Once again, the defense did its job, holding the Saints to a three-and-out,
which gave the Cowboys plenty of time before the half to light up the scoreboard again. With 2:34 showing on the clock, the tone was immediately set when Murray slammed his way up the middle, breaking what seemed sure tackles for a beautiful 22-yard gain. Romo then took over, hitting Bryant for 9, Cole Beasley for 10 and Witten for 11 to get Dallas down to the New Orleans 23.
That was immediately followed by the quarterback connecting again with Williams, this time on the left sideline, the receiver grinding his way into the end zone to give the Cowboys a seemingly commanding 24-0 lead at the break.
Taking first possession as the third quarter got underway, New Orleans made a little noise when they quickly worked their way down the field, moving 68 yards in 10 plays. But the Dallas defense stalled the momentum by keeping the Saints out of the end zone, surrendering just a 30-yard field goal for the visitor's first three points of the game.
And the Cowboys offense had an answer. After Dwayne Harris brought the ball out to the Dallas 34, another special teams weapon for the home side, Romo led his team back the other way. Murray again produced a honey of a run to finish off the series, going off left guard and faking out the safety to rumble into the end zone for the score, the Cowboys lead up to 31-3, where it remained heading into the fourth quarter.
But that's when things got interesting. The Saints offense could suddenly do no wrong while the Cowboys offense found themselves suddenly doing no right.
Less than two minutes into the final frame, New Orleans got into the end zone for a quick touchdown, and then when Dallas went three-and-out, the Saints came right back and tacked on another seven points, the score a now uncomfortable 31-17 with still nearly 10 minutes left in the game.
Making matters worse, linebacker Bruce Carter pulled up while trying to chase down Saints running back Khiry Robinson on a big 62-yard gain and had to leave [embedded_ad]
with what looked like a serious quadriceps injury.
But, the tide finally turned for good when the Saints attempted a fake punt on their next possession. The Cowboys special teams unit played their positions perfectly, leaving Thomas Morstead no open receivers to throw to, the punter eventually brought down for a 2-yard loss.
Now set up at the New Orleans 39, Romo tossed a 16-yard pass to Witten on third-and-9 to push the chains, then hit Bryant along the left sideline on third-and-6 from the 18 for the final score, the Cowboys dousing any hopes of a comeback.
With the win, the Cowboys improved to 3-1, their best mark after four games since the 2008 season, and are now tied atop the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost earlier in the day in San Francisco.
Dallas will next take on its downstate rivals from Houston next Sunday at home, the Texans coming in with an identical 3-1 record.