The Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints will face off for the 30th time Sunday night in the Big Easy. Interestingly, none of the previous 29 contests were post-season affairs, making New Orleans the only NFC team the Cowboys have never faced in the playoffs.
And while the Cowboys and Saints have enjoyed a spirited rivalry of big, exciting games throughout the 21st century, the same cannot be said of the team’s 20th century match-ups. In fact, Dallas (like many teams) thoroughly dominated that Saints from 1967 until 1988. The Cowboys won eleven of the first twelve contests. Remarkably, the Saints lone victory over Dallas during those years was a 24-14 defeat of the Cowboys’ 1971 Super Bowl champion squad. The Saints won only four games that year, but benefited from playing the Cowboys during Tom Landry’s infamous “quarterback shuttle” period, when Roger Staubach and Craig Morton were alternating plays (yeah, it worked about as well as you’d expect).
New Orleans would finally get their second win in the series in 1988, Tom Landry’s final season. The Saints would also dominate the Cowboys in Jimmy Johnson’s inaugural NFL game, winning 28-0 in the season opener.
Since then, however, the two regional neighbors have enjoyed a wild back-and-forth series featuring surprise endings, big wins, upsets and statement games. Let’s take a look at the most notable.
1991 - Cowboys 23 Saints 14
This game has kind of faded in history but was important in the evolution of the Jimmy Johnson-era Cowboys. Dallas entered the game with an 8-5 record and momentum after having defeated the previously undefeated (and eventual Super Bowl champion) Washington Redskins two weeks prior and then the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous week on Thanksgiving.
But to keep the momentum going Dallas needed to win again, in a game that featured Steve Buerlein squaring off against former Cowboys QB Steve Walsh. Dallas entered the fourth quarter down 14-13 but outscored the Saints 10-0 with (checks notes) Tommy Agee icing the game with a late touchdown run. Emmitt Smith ran for 112 yards and Michael Irvin caught five balls for 101 yards.
Dallas would travel to Philadelphia the following week to finally exorcise the demons of an Eagles squad that had won six consecutive contests - and more importantly clinch the team’s first playoff appearance in six years.
1994 - Cowboys 24 Saints 16
This Monday Night game... just wow. Some notable things from this game:
- Emmitt Smith would pull his hamstring midway through the game. It would hinder him the rest of the season and (along with a Larry Allen leg injury) effectively eliminate the Cowboys’ running game in the team’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
- The Cowboys scored 14 points on two interceptions returned for touchdowns. One by linebacker Darren Smith and a 50-yard return by defensive end Tony Tolbert. By way of comparison, the current Cowboys have scored exactly two touchdowns on interception returns in their last 62 games. Just sayin’.
- New Orleans also picked off two passes and both looked to be easy returns for touchdowns. But the officials mistakenly ruled the returner out of bounds on one. And on the other, well, this happened:
Just saw 100-31 of the NFL’s 100 Greatest Plays on @nflnetwork and not one ounce of Larry Allen’s rundown VS Saints was shown— ™️ (@TommySledge) September 14, 2019
Since it like won’t be in the remaining 30, this list is caca poo-poo#DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/WXdZmiRUy0
And @TommySledge is right; this play deserves to be in the NFL’s top 100.
2006 - Saints 42 Cowboys 17
Another in a series of much anticipated night games in this series. This game pitted Bill Parcells against his former assistant Sean Payton in Payton’s first year as head coach of the Saints. Both teams were 8-4 and the game was billed as a contest of mentor vs student.
The student came out on top. Julius Jones would electrify Texas Stadium with a 77-yard touchdown run barely two minutes into the game. From that point forward, however, the Saints would outscore Dallas 42-10 for the final margin.
New Orleans racked up 536 yards and held the ball for 37 minutes. It was utter destruction from which the Cowboys never really recovered. Dallas would manage a win the following week against Atlanta but then lost both of their final regular season games and their wild card game at Seattle on a play we’re all familiar with and don’t need to revisit here.
2009 - Cowboys 24 Saints 17
A Saturday night game in New Orleans against an undefeated 13-0 Saints team that would eventually be crowned Super Bowl champion. No problem.
This is one of the iconic games of the Tony Romo era. He would lead the team to a 24-3 lead a few minutes into the third quarter, orchestrating three long touchdown drives. But, of course, Drew Brees and the Saints responded, scoring two touchdowns on long drives of their own to make it a 24-17 game.
Yet another long Cowboys drive would stall at the Saints’ 8-yard line to set up what should have been a chip-shot, game-clinching field goal. But Nick Folk would yank the attempt, giving Brees and company a final shot at victory. Then DeMarcus Ware did a DeMarcus Ware thing:
2009: 8-5 Cowboys vs. 13-0 Saints pic.twitter.com/oYYn2NnvCM— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 27, 2018
This would inspire a four-game win streak - including back-to-back shutouts of Washington and Philadelphia AND back-to-back victories over the Eagles in the regular-season finale and the wild card round. Unfortunately, the Cowboys season would end the next week in Minnesota.
If you’ve got got two and a half hours to kill and are in the mood for some Tony Romo-era fun you could do worse than watch this entire game.
2010 - Saints 30 Cowboys 27
Yet another high profile matchup, this time the first Thanksgiving game between these two teams. New Orleans would race out to a 20-3 lead with 43 seconds left in the first half of what looked like another blowout.
But a David Buehler 53-yard FG on the final play of the half combined with a 60-yard reverse for TD by Miles Austin on the Cowboys’ first possession of the second half to make it a close game.
Dallas would outscore the Saints 24-3 during this time to take a 27-23 lead. They then appeared to ice the game when Jon Kitna hit wide receiver Roy Williams for a catch and run that took the ball down to the Saints eleven-yard line but Williams fumbled at the end of the play. The Saints recovered, Brees led them on a touchdown drive to take the lead and David Buehler just missed a 59-yard field goal attempt with 31 seconds remaining.
2012 Saints 34 Cowboys 31 (OT)
Perhaps the second best (worst?) example of how Tony Romo’s career was repeatedly derailed by surrounding ineptness. Romo was simply brilliant this day. He would finish with 416 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions on 43 attempts for a 124 rating. He also engineered one of the best comebacks of his career. Down 14 points with less than five minutes remaining he would lead the Cowboys on touchdown drives of 80 and 64 yards to tie the game with 1:14 remaining.
The Saints won the overtime toss, however, and Romo would never have a chance to secure the victory. The Dallas defense, an historically inept outfit under the “leadership” of Rob Ryan would surrender 562 yards that day. The Saints would actually fumble on the game-winning drive but, naturally, the ball would bounce 22 yards forward and be recovered by the Saints.
This was also Dez Bryant’s career best game, as he caught nine balls for 224 yards and a touchdown. If you want to watch some late Romo magic - or just want to appreciate how much better the Cowboys’ defense has been recently watch the endless parade of wide open receivers streaking through the Cowboys’ secondary play after play.
2014 Cowboys 38 Saints 17
The 2014 Cowboys were not considered to be a playoff contender when the season began. They had come off three consecutive 8-8 seasons and in 2013 had the worst defense in team history. They then allowed their best defensive player, DeMarcus Ware, to leave and it was widely assumed the defense would be even worse.
But they managed to win two of their first three games when they took the field for yet another Sunday night contest against the Saints. The game was not close.
Dallas would race out to a 24-0 halftime lead and beat New Orleans in every phase of the game. The Cowboys would rack up 445 yards, force three turnovers and control the clock for nearly 35 minutes. Some numbers:
- Romo: 262 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 137 rating
- Demarco Murray: 145 yards, two touchdowns rushing
In many ways this was the NFL world’s first introduction to the Great Wall of Dallas II. This was the first year Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were teamed together. The Cowboys used the blueprint shown in this game to win the NFC East for the first time in seven five years with a 12-4 record.
Watch the highlights here and enjoy seeing Rob Ryan “lead” someone else’s team to a bottom 5 defensive finish.
2018: Cowboys 13 Saints 10
This should be fresh on Cowboys’ fans minds as this just happened last November. Dallas was a 7.5 point underdog but took a 13-0 lead to the half on the strength of a stifling defensive effort. Dallas allowed only 59 first half yards on five Saints drives, including a key goal line stand:
There would be several blown calls by the officials, Dak Prescott would make a couple good plays but gave the Saints an opportunity to win late with a bad fumble late. But in the end Dallas would hold the Saints to the lowest yardage total of the Sean Payton era and Jourdan Lewis would cap an outstanding night with a late interception:
If history tells us anything, for better or worse this Cowboys-Saints tilt is going to be a game we look back on as a sign of what this 2019 version of the Cowboys can accomplish.