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Spagnola: A Loss Lacking A Whole Lot Of Sense


NEW ORLEANS – They call this place the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

For the Dallas Cowboys, for more times than they care to remember, might as well be The House of Horrors, as if some Voodoo dust is sprinkled on their noggins.

Once again.

Saints 12, Cowboys 10.

That's right, how the heck do you lose a game giving up just 12 points?

How the heck do you lose a game when your defense doesn't give up a touchdown for the second week in a row, only the third time that's ever happened in back-to-back games in franchise history, and the first time in 17 years they've lost a game when keeping an opponent out of the end zone?


Oh, but there is more.

Like with four seconds to play in the first half, with the Saints first-and-goal at the 1, Saints head coach Sean Payton calls for a quick out to his tight end Jared Cook. Basically a two-step drop for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and throw. Throw goes well over Cook's head, sailing way out of bounds incomplete. Only two seconds run off the clock. Two! Replays show the clock started late and stopped before the ball hit the ground.

All causing Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, who complained vehemently to the officials as the half ended, to call it "one of the fastest plays in NFL history." Must have been, leaving the Saints enough time to kick a field goal. Three points.

The Cowboys lost by two.

Or the Cowboys, top caretakers of the ball, who hadn't fumbled once in three games, lose two fumbles, and of all people, Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott, even though on Zeke's fourth-and-1 run for the first down, replay sure appeared to show his elbow having already hit the ground before the ball was yanked out.

"Unfortunately, they ruled that play the way they ruled it," Garrett said.


Or Amari Cooper getting called for not one, but two offensive pass interference penalties, huge calls, since the first one led to Zeke's fumble that led to the Saints third of four Wil Lutz field goals, and the second one on the Cowboys' final drive of the game cost them a 10-second runoff.

"Obviously they were calling the game that way," Garrett said.

Or how about this one? Five times the Cowboys sacked Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and held the Saints to just 266 yards offense, all winning numbers. But yet lost by two.

Or if told you with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees out, and Bridgewater in, and the Cowboys hold the mercuric Alvin Kamara to 89 yards from scrimmage, you'd have thought the Cowboys would have won, right?

And maybe worst of all, Cowboys Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith suffered what I'm told is a "medial" sprain of his right ankle, leaving in a walking boot and probably out for the next couple of games. Meaning the Cowboys are dipping into their depth yet again.

What else? What else?

"But we just did not play well enough to win," Garrett said.

No, the Cowboys did not play well enough to remain undefeated at the quarter pole, now 3-1, and suddenly when a whole lot of folks were getting ahead of themselves, as if the Cowboys were going to win every game, the Cowboys lose their first one, just one game, and the Giants and Eagles each win one this week, and now it's Cowboys 3-1 and Eagles and Giants 2-2 in the NFC East.

Ain't no running away and hiding in this league.

Speaking of running. See what happens when you can't run in this league? Why, the Saints held Ezekiel Elliott to just 35 yards on 18 carries, a paltry 1.9 a carry. Held a Cowboys team averaging 179 yards rushing a game to but 45. Worse part of that, the Saints appeared to be inviting the Cowboys to run the ball, the majority of the time playing a cover two to guard against the Cowboys' big play propensity and leaving the middle of the field wide open.

Yet, Cowboys deliver just three plays of more than 14 yards, and one of those a 32-yard pass to Randall Cobb with 17 seconds left in the game with the Saints protecting deep, deep.

And when you aren't running the ball productively, chances are you aren't picking up third downs. The Cowboys came into the game converting 58.1 percent of their third downs. In this one, just four of 11 (36 percent).

The Cowboys came into the game averaging 32.3 points a game. Scored just 10, They came into the game having totaled at least 474 yards a game. Finished with just 257.

"They did a good job of moving up front, and not allowing us to consistently run the ball," Garrett said.

And when the Cowboys did move the ball the second drive of the game, and this one is on them, they came away from a first-and-10 at the Saints 11 gaining just one yard, with Dak Prescott, scrambling to his left on third down, missing Randall Cobb in the end zone. Field goal by Brett Maher.

They left four points on the field. Lost by two.

"I've got to make that pass in the back of the end zone to Cobb," Prescott said. "I've made a million throws like that on the run."

And this is strange, too. With the majority of the 73,086 packed into the Superdome, and not near enough of the many Cowboys fans there to make a difference, and with the crowd full-throttle the entire game – every Cowboys offensive snaps – the Cowboys did not suffer one false start. Not one.

But then, too, here is what happens. The offensive line, going on a silent count, gets off a tick slow. The defensive guys are looking at the ball. They get a jump. Saw that happen in the 2009 playoff loss at Minnesota in the Metrodome. Can't make as many adjustments at the line of scrimmage either. Always feeling frantic at the line of scrimmage.

Here, home-field advantage is real, and as Payton said afterward, "Our crowd was great, our crowd was fantastic," admitting, too, that makes life tough on an offensive line getting off the ball.

And maybe there is something to the late Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. There ae mighty spooky parts to The Quarter.

Look at this Cowboys-Saints thing this way. If considering the Cowboys' 13-10 win over the Saints last year, now in two games the Cowboys have held the Saints to 22 points with or without Brees. Or, the Saints, well, they've held the Cowboys to 23 points. A win and a loss for each.

So for now, put away your measuring sticks. Put away your barometers. Hold off on Dak's escalating future contract and Kellen Moore a prime head coaching candidate being circulated after his first three games as an OC.

There are 12 games left to play. Green Bay is up next. That means Cowboys nemesis Aaron Rodgers, who has beaten the Cowboys in the last two meetings, including pulling that playoff rabbit out of his helmet that 2016 season in the final seconds. Oh, and the Packers have beaten the Cowboys seven of the last eight meetings dating back to 2009, dating back to 2009.

"We got a great team," Dak said with a stiff jaw. "No confidence lost with this loss, guarantee you that."

No sense to either.

Since sometimes it's hard to make sense of what happens under this Dome.