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Spagnola: These Cowboys Are Really For Real


ARLINGTON, Texas – My oh my, you certainly have heard of survival of the fittest, right.

Well, this was survival of the most defensive.

Get outta here, tell me you woke up Friday morning saying to yourself, did I really just see that Thursday night?

Must have been dreaming.

Come on, did the Cowboys, now the Dallas Cowboys, right, just hold the erstwhile, 10-1 New Orleans Saints, they of the 10-game winning streak, to 176 yards TOTAL offense? Why, that bunch totals 176 yards on a weekly basis in the first quarter, and these were the fewest yards a Saints team has totaled since the final game of the 2001 season, not to mention the 59 they totaled in the first half being the fewest since the 2002 season.

Did the Cowboys look Drew Brees in the eye, and go, oh no, not tonight buster, rattling the hottest quarterback in the NFL, the guy with the 127.3 quarterback rating, into an 18 of 28 passing performance for just 127 yards, to just once touchdown pass, intercepting him once, and sending him back to the Big Easy with a 71.7 QB rating in this game, well aware it don't come easy here in Texas?

Did Brees really start off the game going oh-for-4, the first time that's happened in his career? Career now, and this his 18th season.

Did the Cowboys really – come on, really – hold the most versatile and explosive offensive toy in the NFL, Alvin Kamara, to just 36 yards rushing and 36 yards receiving, and the guy with 15 touchdowns in just 11 games, to zero touchdowns in his 12th here at AT&T Stadium?

Did these Saints really convert just three of 11 third-down opportunities?

Did the Saints really start off the game with consecutive three and outs, the second time they've had consecutive three and outs all season?

Did the Cowboys peer into the eye of the tiger, facing a first-and-goal at their seven and tell the Saints, hey get off my lawn, stopping them on a fourth-and-goal from the half-yard line when Saints head coach Sean Payton, the Mississippi riverboat gambler, said oh no. not settling for a field goal here, we're going for it only to have Kamara, the Saints' leading rusher, meet up close and personal DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford two yards behind the line of scrimmage?

Did the Cowboys really and truly hold the Saints, the team leading the league averaging 37.2 points a game, having scored at least 30 points in nine of their 11 games and at least 40 in six of those nine, to a less than pedestrian 10?

Come on, admit it, you woke up this morning saying to yourself, what the what, Cowboys 13, Saints 10? That they actually won this game with a measly 13 points?

Well, you ain't dreaming.

How so many could be so shocked. No one would even have the nerve to fudge a reality TV show this unreal.

But believe me, this was for real, 93,004 folks here their witness, not to mention Joe and Troy and that national television audience that guessing busted whatever had been the highest rated show on a Thursday night for forever.

And just maybe then this football team is for real, that winning their fourth straight is no accident.

And let's repeat that, team – t-e-a-m.

"That defense was fun to watch," a joyful Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said after the Cowboys had won four games in the span of 18 days, turning a 3-5 record into 7-5 and able now to take a deep breath, knowing they will be holding onto first place in the NFC East for nine more days, before on the 10th resuming with that home game against Philadelphia right here on Dec. 9 looking to ruffle those Eagles feathers for good.

And of course, Dak, you thought you could win with 13 points, right?

"Thought we'd score more than 13," he said. "But win it with 13, we'll take it every time."

And look, the Cowboys certainly weren't perfect. They lost two of their three fumbles. They committed eight penalties for 80 yards, and if not for Randy Gregory's roughing the punter penalty on a fourth-and-3 from the Cowboys 48, a sin for sure, the Saints might not have ever scored a touchdown in this. And on top of all that, to think they were playing a second consecutive game without Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, without their starting left guard Connor Williams and still without Sean Lee and David Irving and starting tight end Geoff Swaim.

And winning.

How fitting this defensive performance was with such noted defensive Ring of Honor members in the audience to honor Gil Brandt, now the 22nd member of the exclusive group inducted at halftime. Why, in the house were Bob Lilly and Randy White and Lee Roy Jordan and Mel Renfro and Cliff Harris, not to mention those defenders 25 years later who helped win Super Bowl XXVIII, like James Washington and Russell Maryland and Tony Tolbert and Kevin Smith and Larry Brown and Tony Casillas and Kenny Gant and Jim Jeffcoat and Bill Bates.

Probably made those boys proud.

"Warriors," the lead warrior, DeMarcus Lawrence said of why this all took place to the surprise of those giving away eight points and then their good money. "When it's time to go to war, warriors show up."

So many were worried that Lawrence poked the bear this week when he stood tall in the locker room saying, "They're going to have to match our intensity, (ahem), for 60 minutes straight. If you hit a mother (ahem) in the mouth and then they ain't doing what they're regularly doing, putting up 50 points, they start to get a little distressed. Now you got them where you want them at, and then you (ahem) choke their ass out."

Lawrence claims he was misinterpreted, that folks centered on the "choke their ass out." But he knew what he was doing, jacking his team up, delivering some confidence pills, and basically telling you what would happen once this defense knocked the Saints out of their norm.

"At the end of the day, I wanted my team at their best," said Lawrence, who finished with four tackles, one sack/fumble and another QB hit, not to mention intense pressure on Brees and would have had another sack/fumble had a late flag not come in for Gregory supposedly being in the neutral zone. "We had to whoop 'em."

Well D-Law, you whooped 'em.

You whooped 'em, along with your D-End buddy Crawford, and inside with Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods, and anyone else who played on the defensive line.

NFL Rookie of the Month Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith whooped 'em, too, and to think LVE won that award without the final game of the month counting, he of another 10 tackles, Smith with nine.

Or as Crawford said, "We got those dogs behind us, in the secondary and the linebacker corps. Those dogs behind us want to hunt. And we got that wolf behind us."

Dogs like Anthony Brown, three tackles, one sack one tackle for a loss, one QB hit, two passes defensed and if he had not been interfered with in the end zone with a push off by Keith Kirkwood on his touchdown grab, the Saints might have never scored a touchdown. And the seldom-used Jourdan Lewis, making three big plays in the only eight he played on defense, and none bigger than the game-closing interception.

So, on the 19th day of this 18-day stretch that began back on Nov. 11 in Philadelphia, the Cowboys will rest, and rest until returning on Tuesday with that 7-5 record.

Someone asked Crawford what he thought 7-5 means, and the defensive line Swiss Army knife said, still hyperventilating from the victory, "I don't know what it means. All I know is in that next game we got to get the dub."

As in W, as in a win.

As in the fifth straight.

"I'm not going to sleep tonight having won this ball game," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "This is big for the Cowboys."

Huge. And if Jerry did sleep, bet he had sweet dreams.