The Dallas Cowboys entered tonight's game with a myriad of question marks, and left it hat in hand. The New Orleans Saints bullied the Cowboys all over the field, pushing Dallas into their bye week with an embarrassing 49 to 17 loss. The defeat drops Dallas to 5-5 on the year, and into a first place NFC East tie with the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles.
The Saints dismantled the Cowboys in every sense of the word. New Orleans offense amassed over 200 yards rushing, and was just shy of becoming the fifth team in 10 games of gaining 400 yards through the air (392). That threshhold wasn't crossed simply out of mercy.
They did however set an NFL record for first downs collected in the game; 40.
40 first downs. The Cowboys never reached 200 yards total for the game and were stymied the entire night by their former coordinator Rob Ryan.
Dallas entered the contest with news of a Dez Bryant back injury being the major talk, but it probably should have centered around the nerve injury Jason Hatcher is suffering from. He was a game-time decision that didn't pan out, and Dallas clearly missed his pressure up the middle on Drew Brees. The team was getting Demarcus Ware back, and although he tallied his fifth sack of the year, clearly was still hobbled by his quad injury. To pile on, the Cowboys lost both Sean Lee and Justin Durant to hamstring injuries, with Lee's looking like it could be serious. Things simply fell apart for the Dallas Cowboys tonight.
Next man up might work for a handful of injuries, but not this.
The Saints started their offensive barrage by running directly at the interior of the Cowboys line with success. Soon after, their passing game was also running through Cowboys comedic tackling attempts.
Dallas attempted to use their running game to shorten the contest and keep the Saints offense off the field, but that strategy only lasted a short while. Before they knew it, it was midway through the second quarter and the Dallas passing attack hadn't developed any rhythm. After the Saints marched 80 yards for their first score, the Cowboys responded as if they were going to get into a slugfest. On the heels of DeMarco Murray netting 78 yards and a touchdown, Dallas actually took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.
However, the Saints added another drive of 80 yards, plus two more of 52 and 75 yards before halftime to surge to a 28-10 lead at the break. At that point, Tony Romo, who had one of the worst games of his career, still hadn't completed a pass to a wideout. He hadn't even attempted a pass to Dez Bryant as the Cowboys ran only 20 plays in the half.
Things didn't improve in the second half, as Darren Sproles and forgotten running back Mark Ingram maneuvered their way through the Cowboys depleted defense. Dallas simply had no way of stopping the diversity of the Saints attack; even though Jimmy Graham was clearly hobbled. 9 different receivers caught passes from Drew Brees. 5 different players scored touchdowns, with Sproles and Pierre Thomas getting two each.
The scarier part though might have been the Cowboys offensive performance. In terms of NFL health, the Cowboys offense is pretty healthy at the moment. But they sure looked sick tonight.
Tony Romo ended up just 10 for 24 for 128 yards and a touchdown pass to Terrance Williams long after the game had been decided. Dez Bryant was held to just one catch, a 44 yard bomb. It was indescribable the difficulties Dallas had on offense outside of their early commitment to achieving the mystical balance some yearned for. Murray would only reach 89 yards on the game after his hot start.
The loss leaves Dallas in the precarious position of now not having any facet of their team working correctly, and two weeks to sit and stew on the loss. It will be interesting to see which direction Dallas goes coming out of the break, with a date in New York on the horizon. The rest of the division appears to be playing better than the Cowboys right now, and they won't be able to rest on their 3-0 division mark any longer.