NEW ORLEANS – The Saints went marching in … again and again and again.
With injuries continuing to decimate the Cowboys defense and the offense unable to do much of anything, Dallas was simply dominated by New Orleans, losing 49-17 in front of a primetime national audience on Sunday Night Football.
"That did not feel good," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "Anything that would go along with losing that you can say, it's embarrassing when you lose. It's embarrassing to not be representative, not be competitive, all of those things."
The Cowboys started this game with a slew of injuries already hampering the defensive unit, this time Jason Hatcher, who is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, unable to go due to a stinger suffered last week against Minnesota.
"It hurt me not being out there tonight," Hatcher said. "Not that I say things would have been different, but I really think I could have helped my team. It hurt sitting over there just seeing my team get beat on."
But things would only get worse for the unit, as the last person the team could afford to lose would leave the game. Early in the second quarter, Sean Lee, the quarterback of the defense, was sent to the locker room with a left hamstring injury and did not return, the severity not immediately known.
Lee plans on getting an MRI on Monday to get a better idea of the severity of the injury.
"Don't know the severity, but obviously it's not good," Lee said. "So we've got to figure it out, and I'll do whatever I can to rehab and get back as fast as possible."
He was followed in the third quarter with fellow starting linebacker Justin Durant also being sidelined with a hamstring injury. And while DeMarcus Ware did come back, he was still hobbled by his right quad injury, obviously not 100 percent.
At some points during the night, especially at the end when Ware was rested, only three of the projected defensive starters going into training camp (safety Barry Church, cornerback Brandon Carr and linebacker Bruce Carter) were actually in the game for the Cowboys.
So, the fact that Drew Brees and the Saints offense basically had their way with the Dallas defense probably shouldn't have come as any surprise. The Saints finished with 625 yards of total offense, and set a new single-game NFL record with 40 first downs.
"They were able to move the ball both by running it and throwing it," said head coach Jason Garrett. "It's well documented we have a lot of different guys playing for us, we understand that, but we didn't get the job done and they did."
Brees finished the night with 392 passing yards and four touchdown tosses, narrowly missing out on becoming the fifth quarterback this season to throw for 400 yards against the Cowboys defense. Nine different players caught passes for New Orleans, with Marques Colston leading the way with 107 yards off seven grabs.
Unfortunately, the Saints didn't just do their damage in the air, as they also rushed for 242 yards, Mark Ingram having a field day against the depleted Cowboys, running for 145 yards on 14 carries.
"There just were very few plays that we stopped," Garrett said. "They did a lot of different things. They ran the ball when they wanted to run it. I thought Drew Brees did a fantastic job reading the coverage and finding the right guy."
With the injury issues affecting the Dallas defense, the Cowboys needed a big game from their offense. They didn't get it.
Facing Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who served in the same capacity for Dallas the previous two seasons, Tony Romo and Co. could do nothing, Ryan getting his revenge on his former team.
The Cowboys quarterback finished with just 128 yards on 10-of-24 passing, the second time in the last three games that he has failed to complete at least 50 percent of his passes. Backup tight end James Hanna led all Dallas receivers with three catches while Dez Bryant hauled in only one.
"We didn't do a good enough job just finding the other guys and making them pay with the other guys who were getting isolated," Garrett said. "We weren't able to drive the ball the way we wanted to. We didn't do a very good job on third down to sustain drives."
Also not helping was a plethora of penalties. The Cowboys rushed for 89 yards, but had 11 penalties for a total of 82 yards. In all, Dallas only totaled 193 yards of offense in the game, running just 43 plays. Again, New Orleans had 40 first downs alone.
The Cowboys had the opportunity to make an early statement when Dwayne Harris beat his man on the punt coverage and then recovered a muffed punt by Darren Sproles to set Dallas up at the New Orleans' 22-yard line. But the offense could muster only three yards, hurting themselves again with a false start penalty. On came Dan Bailey for a 37-yard field goal, the surefooted kicker good on his attempt to stake the Cowboys to an early 3-0 lead.
That didn't last long, though. Starting at their own 20, the Saints marched right down the field, going 80 yards in nine plays with Breese hitting Colston from 22 yards out for the score and a 7-3 advantage.
Dallas then faced a scary moment when on the ensuing kickoff, Harris broke loose down the left sideline for a nice 34-yard return to the Cowboys 28. But already out of bounds, Harris was then pushed by linebacker Kevin Reddick, falling headfirst into a Saints player who was standing on the sidelines. The play was clearly a late hit, but no flag was thrown.
Harris, perhaps the best special teams player in the NFL, suffered a neck injury and went to the locker room, but did return to the game.
Undaunted, the Cowboys did something they've failed to do with any regularity in recent games – run the ball. As the drive pushed into the second quarter, Dallas handed the ball off to Murray seven times during the possession, his biggest gain coming on a 35 run around the left end which set the offense up at the Saints 32.
Murray then capped off the drive with another scamper around the left end from 7 yards out, diving into the end zone to give Dallas back the lead, 10-7.
Again, though, New Orleans had an answer. And this time it came at an even bigger cost to the Cowboys.
With the Saints starting at their own 20, Brees threw a short pass over the middle to running back Pierre Thomas. The linebacker Lee was in on the tackle, but in the process injured his hamstring, lost for the game.
With that, Brees began to pick apart the Cowboys, driving the distance in 15 plays while chewing up 8:56 of clock. The score came when the quarterback found Thomas from 1-yard out, the Saints taking the lead for good, 14-10.
And after Dallas went three-and-out on their next possession, that left plenty of time for Brees to lead his side into the end zone again before the half. This time Sproles took the handoff at the 3-yard line and barreled into the end zone.
But the Saints weren't done yet. With the Cowboys offense again unable to pick up a first down for the third time in four possessions, that gave New Orleans plenty of time to reach the end zone one more time. Starting at his own 25 with 53 seconds left, Brees had little problem reaching paydirt. Quickly working to the Dallas 28, he then dumped off a little screen to Sproles, who darted down the right side the rest of the way, the Saints going into the half with a 28-10 lead having scored 21 points in a span of just over five minutes.
"Again, we didn't have great rhythm on offense in general," Garrett said. "I thought we ran the ball pretty well early with DeMarco. The biggest thing is when you don't convert those third downs, you're not going to get into much of a rhythm."
The third quarter started off the same for the Cowboys offense, as their first two possessions resulted in punts. Likewise, the Saints picked up right where they left off as well. Their first drive of the third quarter finished with a missed field goal with the second resulting in yet another touchdown, Ingram carrying it in from 4 yards out to up the score to 35-10. [embedded_ad]
As time began to wind down in the frame, however, the Cowboys showed some signs of life. Starting at his own 11, Romo hit tight end Jason Witten for 19 yards, then found Bryant down the middle, the receiver making a juggling catch for a big 44-yard gain. Romo then lofted a 21-yard pass to rookie receiver Terrance Williams in the end one, Dallas back on the board, 35-17.
And then the Cowboys pulled off a big surprise with a successful onside kick. Bailey placed it perfectly with Cameron Lawrence pouncing on the prize to give Dallas the ball right back at their own 48-yard line.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys couldn't do anything with the brief momentum change, going three-and-out and punting the ball right back to the Saints. Six plays and a 52-yard bomb later and New Orleans was on the scoreboard once more, this time Brees hitting rookie Kenny Stills for the points, 42-17.
"I can't remember when I've been a part of a game like this before," said Orlando Scandrick.
From there, both teams seemed content to primarily run the ball and run out the clock. But with Hatcher and Lee both missing, the Saints continued to just pound the middle for big games right up the gut. New Orleans drove 78 yards for yet another score and never put the ball in the air, Thomas capping off the drive with a run from the 1-yard line, the rout mercifully coming to an end, 49-17.
"I didn't expect this," Jones said. "I didn't see this coming."
With the loss, the Cowboys again fell back to .500, and are now tied for first in the NFC East with a 5-5 mark, although they currently hold the tiebreaker with Philadelphia. They will now take a much-needed rest with their bye week before returning to action on Nov. 24 when they travel to New York to take on the Giants.