The last home game of the year for the Dallas Cowboys represented a chance for the Cowboys to inch one step closer to the ultimate goal of earning a playoff bid. The only thing standing in their way? The New Orleans Saints. This game had all the look of an offensive explosion and certainly did not disappoint. Both quarterbacks had ridiculous days combining for over 850 yards passing and 7 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Cowboys could not prosper in yet another overtime, losing to the Saints 34-31. With that loss, the Cowboys found themselves relying on the Giants to lose one of their final two games. Thankfully, this is exactly what did happen as the Ravens clobbered New York. This sets up another divisional road clash for the second straight year to get in the tournament.
In review of my column on Friday regarding the Cowboys’ four quarters to success, the four key points were as follows:
1. Close out the game…
- This is the toughest point to critique. Do you say that Dallas did in fact do this given that they were down 14 points with under five minutes to go and pushed the game to overtime? Do you say they failed because they had a chance to win in overtime and did not do so? Ultimately, I lean towards the latter because Dallas had all the momentum and could not even get into field goal range. Beyond that, when they had an opportunity to stop the Saints, they failed on that as well.
2. Frustrate Drew Brees…
- Remarkably, this wasn’t even the most obvious failure. Drew Brees was never challenged by Rob Ryan’s defensive schemes. He was never confused by what Dallas had planned. He was never pressured and rarely were his targets even covered. Brees finished with almost 450 yards passing with three touchdowns and more importantly, no turnovers. He was never sacked, let alone rarely, if ever pressured. When you are incapable of getting any turnovers off the league leader in interceptions, that’s not a good sign for your defense.
3. Control the clock…
- Epic. Failure. Any way you look at it, this is what ultimately did the Cowboys in. As I mentioned in the preview, Dallas came in ranked third in third down conversion percentage. Today, they went 2 for 10. I said that DeMarco Murray needed to be utilized to control the clock and that if he got more than twenty carries or over 100 yards, the Cowboys would win. He carried the ball 11 times for 40 yards. Meanwhile, New Orleans extended drives like it was a scrimmage, converting 58% of their third downs and possessing the ball for forty-two minutes.
4. Dueling number nines…
- Even though Drew Brees comes away with the day as the winner, I think this is one we can say went the Cowboys way. As predicted, Tony Romo was not responsible for any negative plays or turnovers. He also had more touchdown throws and a higher passer rating. Especially when considering he had 10 less attempts and twenty less minutes of time with the ball, I think we can throw the Cowboys a bone and say Romo at minimum held his own in the one-on-one matchup versus his positional counterpart.
As for the three up/three down. I bet you can guess what side of the ball will be representing each category.
1. Tony Romo
- Honestly, probably would’ve been the number two selection here if it wasn’t for his effort late in the fourth quarter, including the game-tying drive. Going 26/43 with over 400 yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers, Romo has shut up all of those left who consider him a late season flop.
2. Dez Bryant
- What a day for the ever maturing new #88. Dez matched his career best in touchdowns in a game and set a new personal best for yards in a game with 224. Bryant was the big play threat Dallas needed since they rarely had the ball to do any damage, yet were still able to score 31 points and get the game to overtime. The only thing keeping him from the top spot was his quiet first and third quarters.
3. Dan Bailey / Brian Moorman
- Bailey was perfect on his lone field goal attempt, a 47-yard effort which tied the game at 17. He also had two touchbacks and had the Saints start their drives, on average, at their own 15 yard line. Moorman had six punts that averaged over 50 yards net per punt, including two inside the 20 yard line.
3. The defensive line
- Zero sacks, minimal pressures or knockdowns, Drew Brees’ jersey would have been clean even if this game was played on a muddy field. The secondary was exposed in large part because Brees literally had all day to complete his pass attempts. I know that DeMarcus Ware was playing hurt but he cannot be the only guy responsible for creating pressure and negative plays for opposing offenses.
2. The secondary
- Aside from a play or two from Morris Claiborne and Sterling Moore and a few other brief positive efforts from Gerald Sensabaugh, the unit was clowned. Whenever you get no interceptions on the league leader in that category, that’s not good. When you allow 11 third down conversions, almost all of them exclusively through the air, that’s just embarrassing. The lack of quarterback pressure hurt them, but that was an excuse last week and this unit held up then.
1. Mike Jenkins
- Jenkins was responsible for multiple missed tackles on key third down situations. Other times, the man he was covering was completely uncovered. For the second straight week, when Dallas needed him most to step up, he failed. Last year at this time, Cowboys fans as well as the organization had seen enough of Terence Newman. This year’s Newman is clearly Jenkins. For a guy who wants to get paid, he surely isn’t playing like he deserves it when the lights are on the brightest.