ARLINGTON, Texas — In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys went to the Superdome with their season on the line against the undefeated New Orleans Saints and left with a win that propelled them to an 11-5 finish and a wild-card playoff victory.
On Thursday, the Cowboys faced a Saints team that came to AT&T Stadium with a 10-game winning streak and was considered perhaps the best in the NFL. The Cowboys had some momentum of their own and pulled off a signature 13-10 win that gives them an 80.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The Cowboys have won four straight — after a 3-5 start — for the first time since 2016 and when they return to action Dec. 9 against the Philadelphia Eagles, they know they will remain in first place in the NFC East — win or lose — with four games to play.
“The defense played beyond my expectations,” said owner and general manager Jerry Jones. “They played like a championship defense.”
It was not a pretty affair, but there were enough magical moments for Dallas — almost all from the defense. The Cowboys are now allowing 18.6 points per game, which is second-best in the NFL behind only the Ravens (18.0), according to ESPN Stats & Info.
“It was a collective effort,” Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “The one thing about our defense, what makes us elite, is that we run to the ball like no other team. We put that on display.”
The offense was stifled for most of the night, and the defense sealed the win with a Jourdan Lewis interception with 2 minutes, 35 seconds to play. A pass interference penalty against the Saints allowed Dak Prescott to take a knee and kill the clock.
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In their first 11 games, the Cowboys used their dime package sparingly, which cut back on Lewis’ snaps. He nearly had a pick on the first series of the game, but he did not let the ball get out of his grasp in the fourth quarter.
As Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli waxed poetic about the Saints’ offense all week — and with good reason — there was always a feeling that the Cowboys’ defense was ready for a breakout performance.
On the first series, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie and Lewis had pass breakups. In the first half, the defense kept the Saints out of the end zone, coming up with a stifling goal-line stand in the second quarter, stopping the Saints on four plays from their 7. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, DeMarcus Lawrence tracked down Alvin Kamara from behind and Tyrone Crawford set up a wall in front to change over the possession. Entering the game, the Saints converted 11 of 12 fourth-down opportunities.
Lawrence effectively ended the half with a sack of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, forcing a fumble that the quarterback recovered.
There were wobbly moments in the second half with the Saints scoring on their first two possessions. Randy Gregory had three penalties, including a roughing the punter penalty that allowed the Saints to keep their drive alive. Brees capitalized with his only touchdown pass of the game.
On the next possession, Gregory lined up in the neutral zone, wiping out a Crawford fumble recovery after a Lawrence sack.
While the defense in the past may have cracked, this defense stiffened. Anthony Brown sacked Brees for an 8-yard loss with a blitz off the edge. Leighton Vander Esch stoned Mark Ingram in the flat for a 1-yard gain. On third down, Jaylon Smith hammered Kamara short of the first down marker.
Vander Esch and Smith combined for 19 tackles.
As well as the defense played, they needed more magic after Prescott was sacked for the seventh time with Brees, the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and second in touchdown passes, staring at them.
It didn’t take long for the Cowboys’ defense to end the threat with Lewis stepping underneath for his first interception of the season.
The Saints gained 176 yards, picked up just 14 first downs, converting three of 11 third-down chances.
The Cowboys’ defense, which was fourth in points allowed entering the game, stole the headlines and took a big step toward the postseason.
Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys OL, missing first game ever
Martin, an Indianapolis native, will be out for the Cowboys’ road game against the Indianapolis Colts in what will be his first missed game at any level — high school, at Notre Dame or in the NFL.
He will be replaced in the starting lineup by Connor Williams.
Martin suffered the knee injury last Sunday against the Eagles and doctors determined that he did not need surgery, but he does need rest to return later this season. Martin wanted to try to play, especially in Indianapolis, where he is from. But the Cowboys are taking the smart approach and now Martin will do something he never has before.
Martin played every game at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, then every game at Notre Dame, then every game with the Cowboys. But when Martin hobbled off the field last Sunday, it meant that he would not get to play in his hometown.
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Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph defends kicking field goal on fourth-and-1 vs. Cleveland Browns — ‘I wanted points there’
DENVER — The Denver Broncos went with math over a gut feel Saturday night, and many of their faithful left the 17-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns talking about a fourth-and-1 on which the team didn’t go for it in the closing minutes as the Broncos dropped to 6-8 and the brink of postseason elimination.
With 4 minutes, 39 seconds remaining, trailing 17-13 and with a fourth-and-1 on the Cleveland 6-yard line, Broncos coach Vance Joseph sent kicker Brandon McManus out for a field goal as boos cascaded down from the stands.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph said. “Had about 4:35 to go in the game. We had one timeout and the two-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there, OK. If we don’t get points there, a touchdown has to win it. It was my decision — take points.”
McManus made the 29-yard field goal — after a delay of game penalty — and the Broncos did get the ball back after their defense stopped the Browns deep in Denver territory, but the Broncos couldn’t move the ball past the 50-yard line to kick a game winner.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said he was confident that the Broncos could have converted the fourth-and-1, but he added that he was angry he didn’t get the offense in position for the game winner after the team got the ball back.
“Yes, I felt confident [we would have converted the fourth down],” Keenum said. “I wanted to convert third down. That’s what I wanted to do. [Joseph] felt like the defense would get a stop, and [we would] get the ball back, and they did. They got a stop, and we got the ball back. I can’t complain. I had the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Joseph said “absolutely” the Broncos’ back-to-back runs for just 2 yards and no gain on the two plays before the field goal influenced the decision.
“Absolutely, the third-down play didn’t look great, and we had points,” Joseph said. “Again, I trust our defense to get a stop the next drive, and we did … hoping we get a stop there and get the ball back.”
While the Broncos’ defense held on a Browns fourth-down play on the next Cleveland possession, that stand came at Denver’s 13-yard line after Browns running back Nick Chubb gained 53 yards on six carries on the drive. That included a 40-yard run on the first play of Cleveland’s drive.
“That last drive, what was it: 75 yards rushing?” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “We can’t allow that.”
In five plays, the Broncos were able to go from their own 13-yard line to earn a first-and-10 at the 50-yard line with 52 seconds to play. Joseph said he believed the Broncos needed to get to the Cleveland 42-yard line, at minimum, for McManus to have a chance at a game winner.
Keenum spiked the ball on first down and threw two incompletions to give the Broncos a fourth-and-10 from the 50. Keenum took a low snap in the shotgun and was swarmed under by the Browns’ rush for a sack to end the Broncos’ chances.
“I’m still pretty emotional about it,” Keenum said. “Man, that’s what I dream about. Man, that’s what I want. I want the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game … to get that close, it pisses me off … Lot of anger at myself. There’s some plays I could make that I didn’t.”
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