They talked the talk, and in the end, they walked the walk.
The Dallas Cowboys came into this game against the New Orleans Saints knowing they were playing perhaps the best team in the NFL. Yet they were confident they could go blow-for-blow with the favorites.
And they did just that, shocking New Orleans with a 13-10 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 93,004 at AT&T Stadium and a Thursday night prime-time television audience.
While the Saints’ Drew Brees came into this game as the league’s leader in passer rating (127.3) and completion percentage (76.4), Dak Prescott actually outshined the future Hall of Famer. The Dallas quarterback completed 85.7 percent of his passes for 248 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 115.5. And this despite being sacked seven times.
Of course, Ezekiel Elliott did his part as well as he topped 100 yards from scrimmage for the fifth straight game, rushing for 76 yards while adding 60 yards receiving. Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper provided the perfect one-two punch in the passing game as well. They finished with 76 and 75 yards receiving, respectively.
Overall, the Cowboys won the time of possession, 36:53 to 23:07, and outgained the visitors, 308 yards to 176. That dominance came thanks to the true stars of the night, the Cowboys defense. They held a Saints team that had been averaging an NFL-best 37.2 points per game and 416.6 yards per contest to less than half those totals. And Brees threw for only 127 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a 71.6 rating.
The key, of course, was to simply keep the Saints quarterback and his high-powered New Orleans offense off the field, a strategy that the Cowboys worked to perfection, especially in the first half. After 30 minutes of play, Dallas had outgained the Saints, 299 yards to just 59, while owning a time of possession of 21:49 to only 8:11.
They also had an unthinkable 13-0 lead.
Brett Maher got the Cowboys on the board with a 26-yard field goal to cap off the team’s first possession with Elliott then reaching the end zone on Dallas’ third series. That came courtesy of a beautifully executed 16-yard screen pass to finish up an eight-play, 85-yard drive.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys defense came out on fire, forcing New Orleans to go three-and-out on its first two possessions – only the second time this season the Saints had been held to consecutive three-and-outs – and punt on their first three series altogether. But that was nothing compared to what the Dallas defense did when the Saints got the ball for a fourth time.
With New Orleans starting at the Cowboys’ 39-yard line after a fumble by Amari Cooper, the home side found its backs against the wall when the Saints had a first-and-goal at the Dallas 7. Three plays later, New Orleans was facing fourth down at the 1-yard line. They decided to go for it.
It was a decision they would regret as the Cowboys, led by a wall of Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, stuffed running back Alvin Kamara for no gain.
The Cowboys then went from their own 2-yard line to the Saints’ 27, doing so in 16 plays while eating up 9:09 of clock. That drive ended with Maher kicking a 46-yarder to put Dallas up 13-0 at the break. That defensive effort broke a 71-game streak of the Saints scoring a point in the first half, which was the longest active streak in the NFL.
New Orleans wouldn’t remain off the board much longer, however. Getting the ball to start the third quarter, the Saints would move 60 yards in 10 plays before settling on a 33-yard field goal.
As good as it had been up to that point, the Cowboys defense hurt itself on New Orleans’ next possession. Three different penalties kept the chains moving for the Saints, but even with that, Dallas seemingly held strong, forcing the visitors to punt from the Cowboys’ 48-yard line
But after Randy Gregory was flagged for roughing the kicker, that gave New Orleans new life yet again. And this time they capitalized with Brees finding receiver Keith Kirkwood in the end zone just three plays later for a 30-yard touchdown.
With their lead now just 13-10, the Cowboys were quickly losing steam and momentum. Which wasn’t helped when the team’s offense then got hit with a 10-yard holding penalty that led to a three-and-out as the clock ticked over into the fourth quarter.
Things then seemingly went from bad to worse. Prescott and the Dallas offense drove 54 yards in 14 plays that led to a third-and-5 at the New Orleans 6-yard line. That’s when disaster struck.
Under pressure, Prescott had the ball knocked loose with the Saints’ Cameron Jordan falling on the prize to give Brees a chance with 2:35 left in the game. But on New Orleans’ second snap, the quarterback got crossed up with his intended receiver Kamara, his pass instead picked off by Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis. That was only the third interception thrown by Brees this season.
Back in business at the Saints’ 16-yard line with 2:08 left, the Cowboys got a pass interference call in the end zone, which gave them the needed first down to ice the game, the team then content to run out the clock.
With the win, the Cowboys moved to 7-5 on the year, assuring that they’ll remain atop the NFC East. Perhaps even more importantly, they also gave notice that they are now a contender in this season’s race for a championship.