ARLINGTON, Texas – For the first time in 54 weeks, the Cowboys had the luxury of having Anthony Spencer on the field.
Was it the Spencer of old? Not exactly. The Spencer that had a career season in 2012 and made his first Pro Bowl? No, not that either.
But that wasn't the point. Just having Spencer back on the field after missing all but one game last year after undergoing microfracture knee surgery is a win in itself.
"I've been away for so long," Spencer said. "It felt really good to be back out there. I missed it and it was fun to be in a game like that and work myself back into it. I didn't get too gassed out there. I'll check out the film and learn from it."
Spencer was credited with three tackles and a quarterback hit playing limited time.
The initial plan was to only rush the veteran end from the left side, which prevented him cutting the edge with his left knee. But on the second series he was in the game, Spencer found himself on the right side and played in both spots.
"We had plans and stuff," Spencer said. "Once people get tired, people start moving around and you never know what's going to happen in the game. We just adjusted and rolled with it. It felt good on either side, really."
More than anything, Spencer said the best part of the night was how the defense stopped Drew Brees and the Saints.
"We executed really well. We fought, we got off the field on third downs," Spencer said. "There are definitely places where we can get better, but it feels pretty good to celebrate this win right now."
Thomas Morstead's assessment of his failed fake punt sounded the same as most of the people who watched it.
"They didn't really bite. No one was open. So I didn't throw it," he said.
Morstead dropped back to pass on a 4th-and-9 from the New Orleans 41. The Saints trailed, 31-17, with roughly eight minutes to play and were hoping to shift the momentum. Instead, Morstead saw nothing but white Cowboys jerseys and the ball for a two yard loss.
"I just didn't feel like it was there. So instead of going 0-for-1 with an interception, I decided to just try and extend the play," Morstead said.
Saints coach Sean Payton is renowned for his willingness to gamble in similar situations – New Orleans famously opened the second half of Super Bowl XLIV with an onside kick. As any football fan can attest, though, those types of calls only look good when they work.
"They played it pretty well. Hindsight probably is 20-20," Payton said.
The Cowboys responded well to the botched fake. They marched 39 yards in six plays and took a 21-point lead to seal the victory.
- David Helman
Teams may not be able to give Dez Bryant all the attention if Terrance Williams continues to respond the way he did Sunday.
Williams took advantage of 1-on-1 matchups throughout the night, scoring his third and fourth touchdowns of the year while leading the Cowboys with six catches for 77 yards.
"I told T-dub, 'If they want to double me, it's a disrespect to you and you kill'em,'" Bryant said. "And that's exactly what he did. And as long as teams continue to double me, 83 is going to kill'em. And that's how it's going to be."
Garrett said other players have to be able to step up when Bryant and the featured offensive players are getting attention. Williams was able to do that throughout the first half Sunday, catching a 6-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and a 23-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter to give the Cowboys a 24-0 lead.
"We have to find ways to get other guys the ball when we have some matchups that we like," Garrett said. "I thought we were able to do that. Tony did a great job seeing the field, throwing to the right guy. Again very efficient, very effective."
The Cowboys held the vaunted Saints offense scoreless in the first half and without a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he believes part of the secret has been keeping fresh legs with a rotation on the front four and more success from the linebackers dropping back and playing in coverage. Whatever the reason, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and his often-maligned group got it done Sunday and continues to exceed expectations.
"Everybody's got their own opinion on our defense, really," said Bruce Carter. "But at the end of the day, we've still got to go out there and play football and line up and go play. Everything will be said for us on the field. We're going to speak with our play on the field."
The defense spoke with its play on a national stage Sunday night, holding the Saints to 114 net yards and a 40 percent success rate on third down in the first half. New Orleans found the end zone late, but the Cowboys ended up with more takeaways (3) than the Saints had touchdowns (2). [embedded_ad]
"I feel like everybody believes we have a chance to win every single game," said Barry Church. "I'm not saying nobody believed last year, but I have the feeling that everybody around us, on the defensive field, is, 'Hey, we're going to make this play. If I don't make it, this guy's going to make it.' I just feel like we believe in ourselves."
It was a complete turnaround from the 49-17 debacle last year, in which the Saints had 40 first downs. Carter and the defense took pride in watching the reversal this year, with Tony Romo tacking on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 3:40 remaining to take a 21-point lead and seal the win.
"It feels great," Carter said. "I was hoping they could score another touchdown on them, just because of that sick feeling we had leaving New Orleans. Like I said, I wanted to let them know that we mean business."