“Wasn’t pretty, but when they start making the space for pretty on the scoreboard, we’ll worry about that.” These were the words uttered by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh after a narrow win over Rutgers earlier in the year, but it could very easily have been said about the Cowboys after a 27-17 win on Thursday night football.
Led by interim head coach Dan Quinn while Mike McCarthy and a handful of others sat out, Dallas played their third game in 12 days and certainly looked like it. They were sloppy at times, but did just enough to get the win over a slumping Saints team that’s now lost five in a row. These five plays in particular were a big part in shaping this outcome.
Amari Cooper’s big catch on third down avoids another three-and-out
This was Amari Cooper’s first game back with the team since testing positive for COVID-19, and even then he was on a pitch count after not getting all the way back to full health yet. That didn’t mean the Cowboys’ top receiver was going to sit around and do nothing, though.
After their first two drives resulted in a whole bunch of nothing, the Cowboys offense was in danger of making it three straight trips without points as they faced a third and seven at their own 23-yard line. But that’s when Dak Prescott hit Coop in an open pocket for a big first down.
Here's the clutch 3rd down throw by Dak Prescott to Amari Cooperpic.twitter.com/k52zEtRQVM— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) December 3, 2021
All in all, the play went for 41 yards and completely flipped the field. Cooper at 100% probably houses this thing, but this result works too. Just four plays later, Michael Gallup was doing the toe-drag swag for a touchdown in the corner of the endzone to give Dallas an early lead, but without Coop’s big third down catch it would have been punted right back to New Orleans.
Jayron Kearse’s ridiculous toe-tapping pick takes away chance at points for Saints
Now that we’ve mentioned an offensive highlight, it’s time to focus on the real stars of this game: the Cowboys defense. They played great all night, and it really started with this particular play.
Down 10-7, the Saints were moving the ball and found themselves just outside of the red zone. But on second and ten, Taysom Hill tried to test Micah Parsons in coverage. The rookie sensation broke up the pass, but Jayron Kearse had to one-up him:
This is just an impressive heads-up play from Kearse to not only go for the ball but to then make the catch and get his feet down in bounds. The replay seems impossible, and yet it happened. The Cowboys took over at their own five-yard line with just over two minutes left in the first half, ultimately getting a field goal out of it. That was all set up by Kearse’s clutch play here.
Highly questionable blindside block kills Saints drive before it even starts
After getting the ball to start the second half, the Cowboys offense went three-and-out. New Orleans responded with a field goal to narrow the deficit to 13-10, followed by another Dallas three-and-out.
The Saints got the ball back with a perfect opportunity to at least tie the game, and potentially take the lead for the first time all night. On first down, Hill hit Deonte Harris for a quick first-down strike. However, the officials called a blindside block on New Orleans, something that appeared to be highly questionable.
After what happened to the Cowboys just a week ago, fans will not have much sympathy here for the Saints but it was still a huge call. Instead of starting a pivotal drive with an 11-yard gain, the Saints were backed up to their own 10-yard line and facing a first down and 21 yards to go. Predictably, they went three-and-out and punted, which led to a Cowboys touchdown that put the Saints in too big a hole to climb out of.
Damontae Kazee’s interception ends promising drive for Saints offense
Of course, when a team is trying to dig out of a hole, that’s usually when mistakes happen. That was the case for Hill on Thursday night. Down 20-10 with roughly seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, New Orleans had already survived an overturned strip sack and converted on fourth and eight to get a fresh set of downs at the Dallas 32-yard line.
For a brief, flickering moment it seemed like the Saints might make things close again. That’s when Jourdan Lewis, sent by Dan Quinn as a blitzer, managed to tip the pass at the line of scrimmage. That sent the errant ball into the hands of Damontae Kazee for the takeaway.
The Cowboys offense ended up going three-and-out following this play, but Kazee’s pick killed what had been a promising drive for New Orleans. Between that drive and the Cowboys’ quick series, nearly three minutes were burned off the clock. That helps no matter what when you’re holding a two-score lead in the fourth quarter.
Trevon Diggs’ ninth interception brings the end that much closer
Hill didn’t have to wait long after Kazee’s interception before he got another shot at things. He started off by hitting Ty Montgomery for a quick first-down pickup, but then the Dallas defense struck again.
Rolling out to his right, Hill tried to hit Harris down the sideline but Trevon Diggs has too much closing speed and athleticism to let that throw go unabated.
That marks interception number nine on the year for Diggs, and this was a pretty good dagger moment in the game. The Cowboys offense responded with - you guessed it - a three-and-out series, but by the time the Saints took the field again they had less than four minutes to try and score twice. The defense continually slammed the door shut on any comeback attempts, which is not something this fan base is used to seeing.
BONUS: Carlos Watkins gets a thicc-six to all but seal the game
There are few things that are universally loved in football, but gigantic men scoring touchdowns is one of them. It’s even better when said gigantic man is a defensive tackle, which is why we’re highlighting this awesome pick-six from Carlos Watkins. Check it out again, in all its glory:
For all the talk about Parsons being a hybrid player, maybe they need to try Watkins back at safety now. Jokes aside, this play was a great bit of icing on top the cake of victory. Sure, the Saints got a frustrating 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown the next drive, but this defense had just recorded three consecutive picks and a touchdown to boot. Enjoy the win and the mini-bye that comes with it.