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Spagnola: Nothing Getting Easier For Battered And Bruised Cowboys

NEW ORLEANS – Life with Tony Romo is not easy.

Life without Dez Bryant grows even worse.

Life without Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy is not easy.

Three-quarters of a game without Sean Lean and one last play without Andrew Gachkar grows even worse.

A half without Lance Dunbar ends up not being easy.

And things grow even worse when you lose the guy who turned in the longest play of the game for the Cowboys, a 67-yard reception by Brice Butler, with a hamstring injury suffered at the very end of that same play.

Oh, and let's not forget, no Orlando Scandrick for the rest of the season, and rookie Randy Gregory can't get back soon enough.

Why, it took all that, and overtime, too, for the Dallas Cowboys' 10-game regular-season road winning streak to come to an end here in the Big Easy, where once again, nothing is ever easy for the Cowboys in the Superdome at night, getting laid out for good in the 60th minute, 13th second by the Saints, 26-20.

Give 'em credit, they will fight.

But as many a visitor to this city, they left sick to their stomachs.

They rallied from a 20-13 deficit in the final four minutes to tie the game on a diving, fourth-down touchdown reception by Terrance Williams on that Brandon Weeden 17-yard throw.

But they also handed New Orleans a field goal, the 5-yard gift when called for 12 guys on the field moving the Saints close enough to attempt, and hit, a 51-yard field goal.

And while Drew Brees did finish the game completing 33-of-41 attempts for 359 yards, two touchdowns and a 119.4 passer rating, he had played much of the game as if a quarterback with a bruised rotator cuff, choosing to dink and dunk his way down field. Prior to the Saints' last two possessions – the final one in regulation with 1:51 left in the game and then the two plays in overtime – Brees had completed 29-of-36 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown, but was averaging just 6.2 yards an attempt, actually averaging just 3.6 yards in the air on his passes.

On that final possession after the Cowboys tied the game, though, Brees completed three passes for 54 yards and had the Saints set up for that game-winning field goal from the Dallas 12-yard line. That's when Zach Hocker yanked the kick off the left upright on a 30-yard attempt – shorter than an extra point these days – to send the game into overtime.

And then that little swing pass out in the right flat to C.J. Spiller that caught the Cowboys flat-footed. See, what happened was Cowboys linebacker Andrew Gachkar injured his foot on what should have been called a pick play on the Saints' first snap of overtime, the incompletion. When he tried to limp off the field, the Cowboys tried to make a last-second substitution against the Saints' two-tight offense, and ended up out there with Anthony Hitchens at middle linebacker, Keith Smith on the strong side and rookie Damien Wilson on the weak side.

The Cowboys were late setting up, and somewhat confused, and did not identify Spiller lined up just off the line of scrimmage, tight to the formation on the right side, almost as if another tight end.

"We caught them in man-to-man on the last play," Saints head coach Sean Payton said, having confused the Cowboys quite a bit all day by routinely changing his personnel groups, making it challenging for Dallas to properly match up without Lee on the field to direct traffic. "I think the way it looked, they just struggled getting aligned and Drew was smart enough to snap it quickly.

"We were kind of in a four vertical route, and it is kind of a play that stems off of the one we had run earlier. I think the tackle (Spiller) breaks against the safety was huge."

Huge? No gigantic, Spiller able to shake Barry Church after Wilson was late rotating over on the wheel route, a ball Brees actually threw like a surprising 17 yards in the air and Spiller on the dead run going 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

That's 140 yards on the Saints last two drives.

Might as well have slugged down about four of those sugary Hurricanes on Bourbon Street to turn those Cowboys stomachs upside down. And guarantee you they certainly were feeling it the morning after.

Yeah, sick.

"Thought we fought our tails off," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the Cowboys fell to 2-2, the two-game losing streak leaving them in a three-way tie for first in the NFC East with Washington and the New York Giants.

"I'm very disappointed, and everybody in this dressing room is sick."

The hardest part to accept? Well, what everyone was screaming about after the 39-28 loss to Atlanta the previous Sunday: Weeden.

Well, guess what? Since taking over for Romo after he suffered the fractured collarbone in the win at the Eagles, Weeden has completed 45-of-59 passes (76.3 percent) for 551 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, is averaging 9.3 yards per attempt (not bad for a guy criticized for not going down field with the ball) and has a 108.8 passer rating.

And the running game? Well, while fading again in the second half, the Cowboys actually got a push with the Saints, both teams averaging 4.1 yards per carry, and Dallas certainly didn't give up on the run.

But, the Cowboys have now given up 65 points during this two-game losing streak, coupled with a continued loss of personnel. One week it's Dez. The next it's Tony and Gregory and Terrell McClain. Now it's Lee short term and it appears Lance Dunbar long term.

Now great, Hardy and Rolando McClain are returning, getting them back from their suspensions this week.

But they also get the 3-0 Patriots on Sunday.

Such is life for the Cowboys.

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