ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys snapped the New Orleans Saints’ 10-game win streak on “Thursday Night Football.”
The Cowboys extended their own streak to four wins to stay atop the NFC East and show up as the playoff contenders they hoped to appear after an October trade for Amari Cooper.
Give a monster day by the Cowboys defense the most credit for the 13-10 win over New Orleans.
Here are three things we learned as the Cowboys moved to 7-5 and New Orleans dropped to 10-2:
1. There’s a first time for everything: Entering the game, the Saints’ stats read as superlatives. Their 37.2 points per game were the most in the league. Their 10-1 record was tied for best in the league. The 73.2 rushing yards they were allowing per game was fewest in the league. The list went on.
That Saints team didn’t show up in the first half at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys capitalized on their shutdown defense to become the first team in 32 days to lead against the Saints, and they would never relinquish that advantage.
The Saints set or matched their first-quarter lows with 16 total yards, 5 passing yards and just one first down. A team that had gone three and out 14 times in 11 games did it twice in the first quarter. And the Cowboys defense didn’t let up the pressure. The Saints, who converted 47 percent of third downs through 11 weeks, made it on just 27 percent Thursday night.
2. And the time they did get a touchdown … The Saints can thank Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory. New Orleans was forced to punt after Leighton Vander Esch pulled out the stops on Mark Ingram’s third-down run with 2:33 to go in the third, trailing 13-3. Cole Beasley made the fair catch. But it wasn’t that simple. Gregory was called for roughing Saints punter Thomas Morstead, a 15-yard penalty that also gave New Orleans the ball back. Three plays later, Drew Brees found receiver Keith Kirkwood for a 30-yard touchdown to shrink Dallas’ lead to 3.
Fox play-by-play analyst Joe Buck wondered aloud on the broadcast whether the penalty would “change the entire tenor of the rest of the game.”
And that wasn’t Gregory’s only error. The Saints gained 15 yards when he was called for a facemask in the third quarter. And he was called offsides — albeit on a close call — to negate DeMarcus Lawrence’s strip-sack of Brees in the fourth. But Gregory’s defensive comrades would bail him out.
3. Still, the Cowboys D won the game: Brees rebounded from his 0-for-4, two three-and-out start. But Cowboys defensive backs jumped his routes constantly, getting a hand on six balls capped off by a game-winning interception by second-year cornerback Jourdan Lewis. A Dallas team that for so long struggled to generate takeaways now has six interceptions in its last four games. The Cowboys almost looked like they would blow a great game, from their penalty inviting the Saints’ first touchdown in the third quarter to New Orleans defensive end Cam Jordan strip-sacking Dak Prescott in the closing minutes. New Orleans had a chance to come back, regaining the ball with 2:35 to play and down just 3 points.
Lewis wasn’t having it.
He intercepted Brees on second and 5, returning the ball to his team with 2:05 to play and sealing the win.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our new Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders.