NEW ORLEANS – I am walking alongside Tyrone Crawford and we are marching the length of the Superdome field, leaving the depressed locker-room mood behind and moving toward the depressed mood that will surely infiltrate the team buses and then the flight home following this crushingly bizarre 26-20 OT loss to the Saints.
“Physically? A little beat up,” the Cowboys defensive tackle tells me. “Mentally? Tore up. Because we shoulda won that game.”
Our walk follows an unfortunate path, as it’s the same one C.J. Spiller took when he snared a short Drew Brees pass and transformed it into an 80-yard touchdown and one of the quickest possible overtime results.
“We had to really earn it on both sides of the ball, all the way around,” Brees said after the 400th TD pass of the Saints quarterback’s career. “These types of wins really strengthen you, really bring you together, help build confidence.”
The 2-2 Cowboys hope it doesn’t have the opposite impact on them. It was over so quickly, on the second play of overtime. New Orleans won for the first time this season. And the injury hits just kept on coming for the Cowboys, who get suspended defensive standouts Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy back but in this game lost running back Lance Dunbar (knee) and linebacker Sean Lee (concussion).
Even the things that went well for Dallas – a team playing without its two best studs in Tony Romo and Dez Bryant – didn’t go well enough. The best example of this: Joseph Randle, who scored the lone TD for Dallas on a 1-yard run in the first half…but did so with an excess of fanciness, which combined with the fact that he nearly fumbled, infuriated coaches.
“Six points,” Randle said in the postgame locker room with at least a hint of defiance.
The Cowboys functioned OK at QB with Brandon Weeden, but not well…at least not until he engineered a clutch Romoesque 91-yard touchdown drive to tie the game in the final minutes of regulation (his fault or not, this marks Weeden’s 10th straight losing start, and the critics will surely cry for Matt Cassel to get a crack at the visiting be Patriots next week.) Their heralded O-line was passable but not dominant. Their goal of being the smarter and more disciplined club was a failure thanks to a series of penalty-earning missteps. And their defense was only taken off the hook, however temporarily, because Saints kicker Zach Hocker ruined a drive with a 30-yard miss in the final seconds of regulation.
But then New Orleans won the toss and needed just two plays to send Dallas – which was attempting to win an 11th straight road game – trudging to the bus. “We were short-handed but we still had a chance,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. “I knew we might he in trouble there at the end…”
And now they have the unenviable task of working to avoid more trouble with two straight losses, their physical and mental burdens, and the Patriots coming to town.