Don’t let Thursday’s 27-17 win over the short-handed and reeling New Orleans Saints fool you, all is still not well with the Dallas Cowboys.
Not on or off the field.
But the main thing is the main thing. The Cowboys (8-4) got back in the win column and will keep at least a two-game lead in the NFC East.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Saints (5-7), who played without their top quarterback, top two tackles, best running back and best pass rusher.
The Cowboys, who had lost two straight and three of the last four, played the game without six coaches, most notably head coach Mike McCarthy, due to COVID-19. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn served as the interim coach.
“It was important. We needed to win the game,” a relieved owner Jerry Jones said. “We did need to win the game.”
Credit the defense, which got four interceptions off quarterback Taysom Hill, including three in the fourth quarter from safety Damontae Kazee and cornerback Trevon Diggs, who recorded his league-leading ninth of the season, and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, who returned his 29 yards to the end zone.
But the Cowboys offense continued to struggle behind quarterback Dak Prescott, who was inconsistent for much of the night, and a seemingly nonexistent running game.
The Cowboys, which at one point was the league’s top units in terms of yards and points, had 7 three and outs in the game, including three in the fourth quarter.
Prescott completed 26 of 38 passes for 238 yards with a touchdown pass and awful interception in the fourth quarter that kept the Saints the game.
Prescott said the defense was the difference for the Cowboys against the Saints but he was pleased to get the victory and end the losing streak.
“A win is a win,” Prescott said. “It means means a lot with adversity we faced the last two weeks and then being hit this week with the COVID. Losing the head coach this week. It felt good.”
The Cowboys will have to fix things before a crucial five game-stretch to end the season that begins with a game at 5-7 Washington, the team closest to them in the division, on Sunday, Dec. 12.
“It was great to get a win and propel us the next five games,” Prescott said. “It’s huge. We have to win this division. We have to establish who we are. Sitting 8-4, atop of the division with a chance to get healthy and rested, we are in a good spot.”
The Cowboys had hoped the return of their top two receivers, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, who had been out with COVID-19 and a concussion, along with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who had been sidelined since mid-September with fractured foot, would make a difference in the team’s quest to end a two-game losing streak.
The offense had struggled in recent weeks without their top receivers. Cooper, had missed the past two games — losses against the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders — and Lamb missed the Raiders game after sustaining a concussion in the Chiefs game.
And while the Cowboys managed Cooper’s reps after he missed so much practice time, his presence proved to be huge. Cooper’s 41-yard catch on the third drive of the game sparked an 80-yard drive that featured the greatness of all three of the team’s top receivers.
Lamb had a 33-yard run on a lateral and Prescott finished off the drive with a 1-yard toss to Michael Gallup, who went up high to pull down the pass as he was falling out of bounds. A brilliant tap of his toes gave the Cowboys their first score of the game.
It was the first time since the season opener that Gallup, Cooper and Lamb were on the field together as Gallup missed seven games with a calf strain.
The Cowboys led 13-7 at halftime thanks to a spectacular interception by safety Jayron Kearse, who dove for a tipped ball near the sideline and got both feet in bounds, turning back a potential Saints scoring drive with 2:19 left in the half. Dallas turned it into a 37-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein, who made a 55-yarder earlier in the quarter.
The Saints got a 24-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Lil’Jordan Humphrey in the second quarter to tie the game at 7, but they would get no closer than three points after a 42-yard field goal from Brett Maher in the third quarter made the game 13-10. Hill proved to be the engine on the drive with quarterback runs of 23, 4, 8 and 6 yards.
Running back Tony Pollard finally gave the Cowboys some breathing room and a 20-10 lead with a 58-yard dart to the end zone down the left sideline. Before that play, Pollard and Elliott combined for 11 carries for 20 yards, including 4 for 6 from Pollard.
But it was the Cowboys defense that saved the day with those four interceptions. The last time the team had that many picks in a game was in 2010, when they recorded four takeaways from Peyton Manning.