The Cowboys were playing their third game in 12 days and had to do so against the hottest team in the NFL. The Saints were on an unstoppable 10-game winning streak that included wins over the Rams and Vikings, and Drew Brees was putting up MVP numbers while orchestrating an offense that was averaging over 37 points a game. This was supposed to be a blowout loss for Dallas, but instead the Cowboys pulled off an astonishing 13-10 victory to extend their winning streak to four. Here are the five plays that shaped the game.
Byron Jones breaks up a pass that would have gone for a first down
After scoring a field goal to start the game, the Cowboys defense did the unthinkable: forcing a three and out on New Orleans’ opening drive. When the Dallas defense took the field for the second time, they were still holding a 3-0 lead. It wasn’t long before the Saints were facing a third and six and in danger of their second three and out in as many drives.
Brees took a snap out of the shotgun and threw a strike to Michael Thomas near the sideline, and it sure looked like he caught it. But the referee signaled that it was incomplete, and that brought up fourth down. Sean Payton threw the challenge flag, but the call was upheld and suddenly the Saints had gone three and out on both of their offensive drives and lost one of their timeouts. Dallas would respond with a touchdown that gave them a 10-0 lead.
Jaylon Smith stops Alvin Kamara at the goal line
Early in the second quarter, the Saints offense started to get things going again after their defense recovered a fumble on the Dallas 39. The Saints pushed the ball inside the Dallas 10-yard line and soon faced a third and goal from the four-yard line.
Brees tossed the ball to Alvin Kamara in the flat, which has turned into six easy points most every time throughout the season, but Jaylon Smith turned on the jets and probably broke the sound barrier to reach Kamara in time and bring him down at the goal line. New Orleans decided to go for it on fourth down and Kamara was stopped for no gain by DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford. If not for Smith’s impressive tackle, the Saints would have put up six points. Instead, Dallas got the ball back and kept the Saints scoreless in the first half.
Randy Gregory roughs the punter, gives the Saints another chance
The Cowboys were still holding on to a 13-3 lead midway through the third quarter and the Saints were trying their hardest to score a touchdown in an effort to come back in the game. After a tackle for loss from Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys brought up a fourth down that made New Orleans send out the punt team with two and a half minutes left in the quarter.
In what can only be described as a boneheaded move, Randy Gregory ran straight into punter Thomas Morstead and the flags quickly flew. He was called for roughing the kicker and the Saints were awarded 15 yards and an automatic first down that revived a critical drive for New Orleans. Brees would throw a touchdown three plays later to narrow the deficit to just a field goal. If not for Gregory’s mistake, Dallas would have had the ball at their own 12-yard line and likely have been able to hold the ball at least until the fourth quarter started. Instead, the Saints got right back in the game.
Jason Garrett throws the challenge flag and wins
With just over nine minutes left in the game, the Saints were once again forced to punt despite still trailing 13-10. Special teamer Dwayne Washington managed to get downfield fast enough and down the ball at the one-yard line, which virtually guaranteed Dallas would have to punt the ball from their own endzone and set New Orleans up with great field position.
But Garrett thought he saw something different from what the referees did, so he threw out the red challenge flag. After reviewing the play, the officials ruled that Washington didn’t actually down the ball and instead it was a touchback. The Cowboys got the ball at their own 20-yard line instead of the one, and were subsequently able to put up a drive that ate up six and a half minutes of clock. Dak Prescott ended up fumbling at the end of that drive, but the time they took off the clock was still valuable, and it was all instigated by Garrett’s decision to challenge.
Jourdan Lewis comes up big with the game-saving interception
After that fumble from Dak, Brees took the field with two and a half minutes to go 85 yards, or less if they ended up trying a field goal to tie the game. Dallas has seen this happen before with other great quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, so the dread was real. Brees hit Thomas for a quick five-yard gain. On the next play, Brees was looking for another quick pass, but the defensive line - specifically Maliek Collins - got pressure quickly.
Brees was forced to throw off his back foot and Jourdan Lewis jumped the route and made a diving catch for a game-saving interception. Lewis had almost done something identical in the first quarter, except he was just a second late to the ball. This time, when it mattered most, Lewis grabbed ball and allowed the offense to run off the last few seconds of the game and secure the biggest victory of the season.