ARLINGTON, Texas - Andrew Luck came into AT&T Stadium Sunday as the NFL's passing leader and he left with his tail between his legs. The Cowboys defense shut down one of the league's emerging stars to the tune of 109 yards passing, two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 41.7, easily his worst performance of the season.
In fact, it was the fourth-highest rating of the game, behind Tony Romo (151.7), Brandon Weeden (158.3) and his own backup Matt Hasselbeck (102.5).
"It was a dismal start," said Luck. "It was bad. A lot of bad. Not much good, if any. Obviously, they were the much better team today and they showed it."
The Cowboys defense held the Colts without a first down until the 5:43 mark in the second quarter. Impressive against anyone, much less the best statistical offense in the league.
"The defense did an outstanding job. That's a great offensive football team," said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. "I thought our guys did a good job winning on early downs. We won on first down a lot. We won on second down a lot. They got into some longer third down situations - hard to convert those and keep drives alive."
Safety Barry Church said the key was making the Colts one-dimensional.
"We knew if we were able to get a good jump on them early and force them to throw the ball a lot in the second half…that we were going to have a chance and that's what we were able to do," Church said. "We shut down their run and made them pass and we were able to take advantage of it."
Shut down the run game is an understatement. The Colts managed one, single yard on the ground, the lowest the Cowboys allowed all season.
"That's amazing," said defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford. "Shout out to us. Everybody was making plays."
This is the type of performance the Cowboys defense can hang their hat on. Shutting down a high-octane offense to just 229 yards, forcing three turnovers and sending Luck to the bench in the third quarter, down 35-0.
"There are high expectations, especially on the offensive side of the ball," said Luck. "To go out and score every drive. To get points and move the ball. When we don't, it's disappointing. When you go out and play like this, it's a bad feeling. Against a good team like the Cowboys, you aren't going to survive those mistakes."
Indianapolis didn't survive, however the Cowboys thrived and appear to be peaking at just the right time, December.
"Guys are just believing in the system," said Brandon Carr. "Believing in ourselves and we went out there and executed and got the job done."
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick agreed.
"It's a big accomplishment. We reached two of our goals tonight. We clinched the playoffs and we won our division. Now, we get about 24 hours to enjoy this and then we need to get on to Washington."
And then after Washington, it's the playoffs. For the first time in five long seasons, the Dallas Cowboys are in the tournament. With a defense that might not be so bad after all.