DALLAS — A week after a tough Thanksgiving loss, the Dallas Cowboys responded with an uneven performance during a 27-17 Week 13 win over the New Orleans Saints. The good news is the NFL doesn’t include style points when counting victories. The bad news is the Cowboys still don’t appear to be playing at the same level as they were during their winning streak from earlier in the season.
Following a second consecutive Thursday contest, the Cowboys will now have a few extra days to work out some of those kinks before they take the field again. In the meantime, the biggest thing that needed to come out of the game against New Orleans, and Dallas’ third game in 12 days, was a win.
Much like their previous two games, the Cowboys found it to be a struggle to find any rhythm on offense. Unlike their previous two games, Dallas hit on enough plays to win the game.
The offense ultimately connected on three big plays to help come away victorious. The first came in the first quarter with the game tied at 0-0 and the Cowboys facing a 3rd & 7 on their own 23-yard line. Quarterback Dak Prescott hit wide receiver Amari Cooper over the middle for a gain of 41 yards. The play loosened up the Saints defense and extended a drive that ended in a one-yard touchdown from Prescott to wide receiver Michael Gallup.
The second key offensive play occurred late in the second quarter. On a 3rd & 5, Prescott threw a dart over the middle to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb for a 20-yard gain. The first down helped the Cowboys continue a drive and keep the ball away from the Saints at the end of the first half. Dallas would eventually add on three points and take a six-point lead at halftime.
The play of the game on offense for the Cowboys was the breakout run that they’ve been searching for over the last few weeks. Running back Tony Pollard took a pitch outside, avoided a tackle, and then found daylight for a 58-yard score. Pollard outran the Saints defense on his way to the endzone with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter. After the Cowboys had struggled to find momentum on the ground for much of the evening, Pollard’s run gave Dallas what felt like an insurmountable 20-10 lead.
While the offense did just enough to earn the win, the defense came to play after a rough outing against the Las Vegas Raiders. The unit carried the Cowboys for much of the game and sealed the victory with a huge fourth quarter.
The defense did allow 101 yards to Saints quarterback Taysom Hill on 11 carries, but Hill’s legs were the only offensive weapon for the home team on the night. The Cowboys shut down the passing attack led by Hill, allowing just five third down conversions on 14 tries, sacking Hill twice, and picking off four passes.
And just like how the offense came up big when they needed to, the defense saved their biggest plays for key spots. Safety Jayron Kearse’s interception near the end of the first half took potential points off the board for the Saints and led to three points on the ensuing drive for Dallas.
Perhaps the most important defensive play of the night came from rookie standout Micah Parsons. With the Cowboys up 10, and the Saints driving in the fourth quarter, Hill rolled out on 3rd & 2 and thought he could get the ball out for a first down. However, Parsons closed in on Hill and got his 10th sack of the season.
Hill had wiggled his way out of the clutches of Cowboys defenders for most of the night, but there was no getting away from Parsons. The takedown took the Saints out of field goal range and erased more potential points.
After Kearse’s first half INT, the defense would close the game with three interceptions in the fourth quarter, including one that was returned by defensive lineman Carlos Watkins for a 29-yard touchdown.
A slapdash struggle wasn’t the preferred showing from the Cowboys, with the defense carrying the offense through a rough stretch, but that’s what happened in the win over the Saints. A takeaway-hungry unit prevented points and helped Dallas open December with a victory.
Thursday’s win may not have looked impressive for a team with big expectations, but ugly or not, the Cowboys just needed a win. After going 1-3 in November, Dallas needed to add to their win total and feel rewarded for their effort for the first time in a few weeks.
The COVID Protocol-ravaged group needed a win to get their edge back. Mostly the Cowboys just needed a win to keep the pressure on their division rivals, who had perhaps sensed an opportunity in the NFC East.
They don’t ask how, they just ask how many, and the Cowboys are now 8-4. The two game losing streak is over and Dallas gets a mini-bye to prepare for their final five games.
Was the 27-17 win over the Saints enough to convince you that the Cowboys are back on track? Share your best boasts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.