It was one of those games that leaves the casual fan incredulous, like the day the lowly Buffalo Bills beat the powerhouse Minnesota Vikings by three touchdowns. You saw it happen in high definition. But you can’t believe it really did.
So now we know for sure. The Dallas Cowboys are not only serious about winning the NFC East, they are capable of doing much more in the playoffs.
Here are the facts: The New Orleans Saints came to Dallas on Thursday on a 10-game winning streak after losing their season opener to Tampa. They were averaging 44.0 points over their last four games, 37.2 this season behind an offense that’s left skid marks. They were being directed by the NFL’s likely MVP, quarterback Drew Brees, who at 39 years old has outplayed many QBs half his age.
The Cowboys held the Saints to 176 yards. The Saints trailed 13-0 at the half. Final score: Dallas 13, New Orleans 10.
Unbelievable. Implausible. Totally the truth.
“The defense played beyond my expectations,” said owner and general manager Jerry Jones. “They played like a championship defense.”
Amid the wreckage was Brees, his numbers whittled to just 18 completions for 127 yards and one TD. Worse yet, the normally cucumber cool veteran was coaxed into an uncharacteristic interception with 2:08 to play, the Saints seemingly on their way to tying or winning the game.
“I guess we may have had one decent drive. … So credit to them,” said Brees.
The loss has great implications for the Saints (10-2). They are now trail the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The Saints have the tiebreaker after handing the Rams their only loss on Nov. 4. But now they need help to be able to take advantage of it.
The Cowboys (7-5), who have won four straight, hold a one-game lead over the slumping Washington Redskins in the NFC East and are playing with great enthusiasm.
Consider that Brees began the game with four straight incompletions for the first time in his 18 seasons and ended it with his second-fewest passing yards. He was sacked twice. His team hadn’t been shut out in the first half in 71 games. It hadn’t gained as little as 176 yards in 17 years. It converted only three of 11 third-down attempted.
“We [were] on a good run,” said Saints halfback Mark Ingram. “And we’ve just got to get back to the drawing board.”
Here’s something for Cowboys opponents, present and future, to think about: Their defense has allowed only 18.6 points per game. Only the Baltimore Ravens (18.0) are better.
Sherman Tanks The Seahawks
Richard Sherman, a Stanford man, prides himself for his outspoken nature and eloquent tone. He says what he thinks and thinks about what he says. With Sherman, there is always a point to be made.
This week, his target was the Seattle Seahawks, the team for which he made four Pro Bowls in seven seasons as a safety with the “Legion Of Boom” defense that led the team to a Super Bowl championship.
The topic was timely since he will play against Seattle for the first time Sunday as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
Sherman is not happy the Seahawks dumped him in the offseason while he was still recovering from an Achilles injury. It so insulted him that he decided to sign with the 49ers, who reside in the NFC West with the Seahawks. San Francisco gave him $27.2 million over three years.
“You just expect after you’ve done so much for a franchise that they wouldn’t cut you while you were hurt,” said Sherman. “It’s kind of a respect thing more than anything. But they did.”
Sherman wasn’t especially complimentary about Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, either.
“I’ve seen him throw five picks in a game,” said Sherman. “So you see what he’s capable of on both sides. You understand he can be defended. …I don’t really have a relationship with Russell other than we were teammates.”
Flacco Almost Ready: What Will Ravens Do?
You knew the time would come when Joe Flacco’s hip injury had calmed enough to allow him to practice again. That time came Thursday for the Baltimore Ravens.
And you knew when it happened they would have to decide whether to make Flacco the starting QB again or leave the offense in the hands of rookie Lamar Jackson. Jackson has literally run the Ravens to two straight wins as its starter.
Jackson has rushed for 190 yards and one TD, the ignition switch for a running game that has averaged 254.5 yards on his watch.
There is also the practical matter of why a 6-5 team in the midst of a postseason race, one finally on a mini-roll, would want to suddenly mess with something that’s been working really well.
The Ravens play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and its expected Jackson will start. But Flacco may be ready to go next week and that’s when things will get really interesting.
Broncos Have Kicked It Into Gear
On the outskirts of insignificance, a neighborhood John Elway, general manager and president of the Denver Broncos, has no interest living in, the team has rallied over the last three weeks. And now they just might make the playoffs.
Consecutive wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers have brought the Broncos back to 5-6 with the chance to compete with the Indianapolis Colts, Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins for the AFC’s sixth seed.
The Broncos have benefitted from some good luck, like last Sunday, when Ben Roethlisberger inexplicably threw an interception to a back-peddling defensive tackle, in the shadow of the end zone, the game on the line and just over one minute to play. The Broncos won, 24-17.
Denver has played smartly lately. It didn’t turn the ball over in either of their wins. And its defense, which allowed a combined 593 yards rushing in losses to the Rams and sadly inept New York Jets, has not allowed anyone to gain 100 since. Then again, even though they beat the Steelers, they allowed 527 yards in the process.
Now the Broncos get to play the Cincinnati Bengals, with an even more abysmal defense, in the throes of a three-game losing streak and with a new starting QB, Jeff Driskel.
Andy Dalton was placed on injured reserve Monday after injuring the thumb on his throwing hand last week against the Cleveland Browns. So Driskel, in his third season, will get his chance. In two appearances, he’s completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 239 yards and one TD and rushed for 49 yards and two additional TDs.
Injuries Begin To Mount For Colts
No team in the league has generated more attention lately than the Indianapolis Colts. They have won five straight behind the resurrected Andrew Luck, whose completion percentage (77.9), 925 yards passing and nine TDs in November have lit the pilot light for this long-dormant franchise.
But now it looks like there will be more pressure on Luck to keep things moving. Injuries to his weapons are beginning to build.
Center Ryan Kelly will miss his second straight game Sunday against Jacksonville with a knee injury. Running back Marlon Mack might not play because of a concussion. And tight end Jack Doyle, one of Luck’s go-to receivers, is now on IR with a kidney injury. Doyle has had an injury-plagued season. He’s appeared in only six games (26 catches, 245 yards) after leading the Colts in receptions (80) last season and making the Pro Bowl.
As it is, receiver T.Y. Hilton (groin) and tight end Eric Ebron (back) have already been hobbled. If Ebron can play Sunday, he would be the only tight end the team has not on their injured list. Erik Swoope, Mo Alie-Cox and Ryan Hewitt are all hurt and out, as well.