Well, any hopes of going 16-0 are officially out the window. The Cowboys dropped their first game of the season on the road to the Saints, and in frustrating fashion. The defense didn’t give up a single touchdown, but the red-hot Cowboys offense was terrible in just about every way possible. Here are five of the most impactful plays that shaped this disappointing loss.
Jason Witten fumbles the ball, kills offense’s momentum
With the Saints up 6-3 about midway through the second quarter, Dallas was experiencing yet another slow start for their offense, which has been fairly common this season. But as they tried to get things going, disaster struck. On third and four, Dak Prescott hit Jason Witten on a great inside throw that would have picked up 16 yards and moved the ball into New Orleans territory.
Instead, the future Hall of Fame tight end fumbled the ball for only the ninth time in his sixteen-year career after linebacker AJ Klein punched it loose. The Saints didn’t score off the turnover, but it killed what otherwise would have been a big momentum builder for the offense, which was trying to wake up.
Amari Cooper’s very questionable offensive pass interference call
After the Cowboys got the ball back next, the offense tried to keep their heads up after Witten’s fumble. After converting an early third down, Dak hit Amari Cooper for a 14-yard gain on first down that took the ball to the middle of the field, and it looked as if the offense was starting to hum.
This is the first time that Amari got called for OPI against the Saints pic.twitter.com/FvSFGGQ6Z4— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) September 30, 2019
But that wasn’t the case, however, and Cooper was flagged for offensive pass interference. On the replay, it looked highly questionable as to whether or not Cooper pushed off, and even in-studio officiating veteran Terry McAulay questioned the legitimacy of the call. Nevertheless, instead of having first and ten at the middle of the field the Cowboys were given first and 20 where they started the drive.
Ezekiel Elliott’s fumble that wasn’t
After being backed up by the penalty, the Cowboys did their best to try and overcome it but still came up one yard short on their own 43-yard line. Electing to go for it on fourth down, Dallas ran it up the gut with Zeke and the running back pushed through for two yards and the conversion.
However, the officials ruled a fumble recovered by the Saints. The replay video seemed to clearly show that Zeke’s elbow was down before the ball came loose, and once again McAulay agreed with that opinion, but the officials upheld the play. This change of possession led to the Saints kicking a field goal before halftime. If not for the OPI call, the fourth-down situation never even happens, and if not for what seemed to be an incorrect replay ruling, the Saints don’t get another score, but hey it’s not like Sean Payton bragged pre-game about how well he does with the officiating crew present for the game or anything.
Dak can’t connect with Cobb for crucial third down
Early on in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were down 12-10 and trying to continue on with their halftime adjustments that led to a touchdown in the third quarter. Facing a third and two at their own 42-yard line, Dak took a shotgun snap and had time to survey the field.
This play, honestly, felt like the game to me when it happened.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) September 30, 2019
Dak was 14 of his last 15 for 138 yards at this point. This was a big 3rd down opportunity near midfield after New Orleans just drained 9+ minutes off the clock.
Game may have been different if they connect here. pic.twitter.com/LWXbUhZUkU
He had Randall Cobb come wide open on an underneath crossing route that would have at least picked up the first down and possibly gained a significant amount of yards. But Dak threw the ball a bit behind his receiver and Cobb failed to bring it in once the ball hit his hands. The ball dropped to the ground and forced the Cowboys to punt.
Jaylon Smith’s clutch sack helps Cowboys just a little bit
So far this list has been a downer, so let’s talk about something positive that had a big impact. The Saints were in field goal position with just under two minutes remaining and trying to run the clock down. Teddy Bridgewater dropped back to pass on third and eight as the Saints tried to convert the first down to continue chewing clock.
Jaylon Smith had other plans though. Kerry Hyder got great penetration and forced Bridgewater back and to his left, and Smith came through on the twist around the edge to bring him down. It was a loss of 16 yards and took the Saints out of field goal position. In the end, it didn’t make a difference but the defense came up in a massive way when they needed to and ultimately kept Dallas in the game.