Cowboys Dominate Sunday Night
The Cowboys dominated the Saints 38-17 underneath the bright lights on Sunday Night Football, with the defense forcing three turnovers and the offense marching down the field virtually at will. Summarized Tony Romo: “This is as complete a unit as I’ve ever been a part of.”
All this week the Cowboys were reminded of the 49-17 trouncing at the hands of the Saints last year in the Superdome. Dez Bryant and others at Valley Ranch talked openly about how “nobody wants to get embarrassed” on a big stage. But somebody did get humiliated on the big stage Sunday. And to the surprise of people not headquartered in the Cowboys locker room…the “somebody” wasn’t the Cowboys.
In Dallas’ 38-17 victory, the Cowboys bullied the Saints behind the rapidly maturing blue-chip offensive line. Running back DeMarco Murray, who finished with 24 carries for 149 yards and two rushing touchdowns, carved up ex-Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense. Murray even carried the pile on two occasions, as well as having five runs of 10 yards or greater. His two touchdown carries were from 15 and 28 yards out, respectively, and with over 100 yards in each of his first four games, Murray joins Jim Brown, OJ Simpson and Emmitt Smith as the only four players to ever achieve that mark.
“I’m just out there to do whatever I can to help the team,” Murray said. “Obviously I’ve got to give credit to the offensive line for what they were able to accomplish up front.”
Indeed, there is lots of credit to go around for a win that caused owner Jerry Jones to gush, “I don’t recall ever seeing a Cowboys team in my 25 years play better in terms of effort than we did in the first half.” Dallas’ new Great Wall was central to all of that, protecting Tony Romo so he was only sacked once. Romo went 22-of-29 for 262 yards and three touchdowns, and finished with a 137.4 passer rating.
The “old” Romo looked to be back. On the game’s opening drive, Romo avoided a sack, scrambled to buy time, and hit wide receiver Terrance Williams for a 15-yard completion. It was the start of something big for Williams, who led all Cowboys receivers with six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Dez Bryant, who had been held to just one catch for 44 yards in last year’s meeting, had three catches for 44 yards and a late touchdown.
“I wanted a piece of the cake,” Bryant told me. “Whenever you get the opportunity, you got to take advantage of it,” Bryant said. “That’s exactly what happened. I put in the dagger. Boom!”
The warhorse Jason Witten caught a season-high five receptions for 61 yards. The 12-year veteran was so engaged he talked trash to the Saints secondary after making big catches early in the game..and what could any of them say in retaliation as the Cowboys kept piling up yards? “There’s no question, this is a big win for us,” Witten said. “I do feel like we’re building something.”
On a night when Dallas’ offensive arsenal seemed truly special, even scatback Lance Dunbar, a New Orleans native, caught two passes for 36 yards. His longest of the night was a 24-yarder set up by a fake reverse to receiver Dwayne Harris that turned into a screen pass for Dunbar.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick earned the first-team nod and led the team with six tackles, and almost had an interception on two occasions. Linebacker Justin Durant, who saw his first action since Week 1, recorded a forced fumble and an interception. Linebacker Rolando McClain, who returned to the field after missing last week in St. Louis, also forced a fumble. Dallas recovered both forced fumbles to lead 3-0 in the turnover margin for the game.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton also earned a sack in the game’s final minutes, his first since 2012 when he was with the Chicago Bears. Reserve defensive lineman Jack Crawford sacked New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead on a fake punt pass attempt. And Anthony Spencer, playing in his first game in a year after microfracture knee surgery, was a factor too, joining Melton and McClain (who were uncertain to play due to injury) in providing an emotional boost.
The Cowboys will monitor the injury status of Mo Claiborne, who may have seriously injured his knee, and of Bruce Carter, who experienced a playmaking night before injuring his quad. (Carter told me he’ll have an MRI on Monday morning but feels optimistic the injury isn’t too serious.) But another chance at help is on the horizon: Josh Brent will reportedly be eligible to join the Cowboys with a “modified suspension” that means he’ll still miss the first 10 games of the season but will be allowed to work out and take part in meetings with the club starting this week. That will help his ramp-up ability to actually play inside the D-line when he’s eligible.
So that’s offense. And defense. And to back up Romo’s claim of “completeness,” Dan Bailey made a “routine” 51-yard field goal to put Dallas up 10-0 in the second quarter. Bailey’s consecutive made field goals streak is now at 29, a club record that continues to grow with each made field goal. The league record is 42 set by the Colts’ Mike Vanderjagt from 2002-04.
“We believe in what we do,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’re convicted about how we put this team together, how we build this team, the kind of guys we want on this team, the physical nature we want to play with. We have strong convictions about that. You just have to keep going about it the right way.”
Dallas’ 3-1 start is its best since 2008 and no team in the NFL has more wins than the Cowboys. And the success here was accomplished against a vaunted Saints team that looked as outclassed as it made Dez’ team look a year ago. “Who Dat?” is the Saints’ Cajun-flavored rallying cry that wonders “who” can beat New Orleans.
“We Dat!” Bryant said as he celebrated not getting embarrassed…and maybe even being on the path to “completeness.”