'They Carried Us:' Defense Follows D-Law's Lead


FRISCO, Texas – DeMarcus Lawrence gave the New Orleans Saints' offense all the credit in the world two days ago.

"Hands down, if you really look at the details, the best team in the league," he said.

High praise from the Cowboys' star pass rusher, with one caveat: The league's No. 1 scoring offense (37.2 points per game) hadn't faced the Dallas defense yet.

You can call them elite too after Thursday's gritty 13-10 victory at AT&T Stadium.

"I must tell you, the defense played beyond my expectations out there," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "They played like a championship defense."

The Saints (10-2), had scored on just over 60 percent of their possessions in their first 11 games. Thursday, they scored on just two of nine drives.

Through 11 games, their vaunted offense had reached at least 30 points nine times. Thursday, those 10 points against Dallas (7-5) easily replaced their previous season-low 21 points in a Week 2 win over Cleveland.

And Drew Brees, a legitimate MVP candidate in his 18th season, completed only 18 of 28 passes for 127 yards, his second-lowest passing yardage this year. The Minnesota Vikings held him to 120 yards in Week 8. You have to go back to the 2006 season to find a lower total.

Thursday, Lawrence and the Cowboys' front seven never let him get comfortable.

"We didn't give him a chance to get in his rhythm. Great quarterbacks, they're all about rhythm," linebacker Jaylon Smith said. "He knows what we're doing because he's been playing this game so long, there's a reason why he's so elite. But we kept coming, and that's what helped tonight."

New Orleans' offense went scoreless in the first half for the first time since 2014. Its best chance, a first-and-goal at the Dallas 7 after recovering an Amari Cooper fumble, resulted in a turnover on downs after consecutive stops by Smith, Lawrence and defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford.

The Saints found put together back-to-back scoring drives in the third quarter, but their lone touchdown of the game – Brees' 30-yard pass to receiver Keith Kirkwood – came after four Cowboys penalties, including roughing the kicker flag against defensive end Randy Gregory.

New Orleans' final two drives in the fourth quarter ended in a punt and a finger-tip interception by second-year cornerback Jourdan Lewis.

"They carried us," running back Ezekiel Elliott said.

Lawrence made headlines with his comments earlier in the week, saying the defense had to hit the Saints in the mouth, figuratively, for 60 minutes.

He felt his words were taken out of context, but the message was loud and clear: The Cowboys had to take the fight to them, play physical, play assignment sound.

"It's football," he said. "If you capitalize on a team early, you've got to step on their throats like I said and don't let them back up, which we did today. And we held them to 10 points.

"I'm excited for all my guys. I'm glad that we had this battle to see what a real championship team looks like. We've got to move forward and go on to the next one."