IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys and head coach Jason Garrett could breathe a sigh of relief knowing they'd still have a chance at the NFC East title after dropping their game to the Saints.
A Giants loss set the Cowboys up for a winner-take-all meeting this coming Sunday against a Redskins team that boasts some similar attributes to the Saints squad they just played, beginning on defense.
"I think the basic premise is the same," Garrett said. "They try to mix coverages behind their front and they're a pressure team, but they're also a coverage-oriented team at different times. You have to obviously be aware and ready to have an answer for what they're capable of playing. It's a 3-4 defense, so that's a little different from what New Orleans plays, but it's a style of defense that we've seen before that comes from the Pittsburgh Steelers' tree and (defensive coordinator Jim) Haslett has done a great job of kind of putting his own stamp on it over the years."
One week after facing the league's leading passer, Drew Brees, the Cowboys will play a budding star quarterback in rookie Robert Griffin III, who threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns in the teams' first meeting this year at Cowboys Stadium.
Garrett said he wasn't surprised with what he saw from Griffin in person after watching him in the early portion of the season and in college.
"He's come into this league and done an outstanding job in his rookie season," Garrett said. "They're a very good offense, have a lot of good weapons, they have good receivers and they use those guys really well. It'll be a great challenge for us. We were challenged on Thanksgiving."
Marques Colston's overtime fumble seemed oddly familiar to the play against the Cowboys a week prior, when an apparent fumble on a catch by Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders was ruled incomplete.
After reviewing Colston's catch, the officials ruled the ball popped out after he maintained possession. The resulting fumble was recovered by the Saints after the ball rolled more than 20 yards to the 2-yard line, essentially sealing the win for New Orleans.
As it stands, sudden death overtime rules are the same as fourth quarter rules and not two-minute rules, in which case a forward fumble couldn't be advanced.
Garrett said he'll likely ask the league to look at the two plays.
"That probably will be one of the ones we send in," Garrett said.
Third Down Woes
The Cowboys finished just 2-of-10 on third down efficiency, while the Saints were 11-of-19. New Orleans converted a third-and-6, third-and-7 and third-and-14 in the first half, while Dallas failed to find the same success.
"This is a bad thing for a coach to say, but we didn't make the plays necessary," Garrett said. "We have to evaluate that as coaches, if we gave them a chance enough to do that, but they weren't doing things that we didn't think they were going to do. We thought going into the ballgame they might play certain coverages or do certain things in those situations and that's what we got and we didn't convert on them."
DeMarco Murray never lost a fumble in his career prior to the two he lost the last two weeks. Both fumbles occurred at inopportune times either near the Cowboys' goal line or the opponents' goal line.
"One of them was down in the red zone with a scoring opportunity last week and this one was coming out, which gave them a real easy scoring opportunity," Garrett said. "We obviously have to get that corrected. Every week you have to be good with the football. You have to win that turnover battle to give yourself the best chance."
The running game couldn't get going against the Saints with limited opportunities. Murray was the only Cowboys player to record a rush, and he ran 11 times for 40 yards.
Garrett said he has different ways to define a strong rushing performance or an efficient run. He'd be hard-pressed to find many from Sunday's game.
"Four yards or more is an efficient run," Garrett said. "Short-yardage runs, if you convert, that's an efficient run. Down in the red zone, if you cut the distance in half, that's an efficient run. The base rule is 4 yards or more."
Dez Being Dez
Garrett complimented Dez Bryant for playing through a fractured finger and still compiling a nine-catch, 224-yard, two-touchdown performance Sunday, giving him seven straight games with a touchdown reception.
"He's done an amazing job with that finger," Garrett said. "It doesn't seem to faze him in any way shape or form. He made a couple of really big plays in the ballgame early for us, running the 9 route, making the play over his head and then catching a slant and breaking a couple of tackles to score…I think he's grown."