The Dallas Cowboys made New Orleans Saints’ ageless wonder, quarterback Drew Brees, look his age on a national stage Thursday night at AT&T Stadium and pulled off the most stunning upset of the 2018 NFL season.
Fueled by an unrelenting pass rush and quick, gritty defense, the rejuvenated Cowboys led wire-to-wire en route to a 13-10 victory and snapping the Saints 10-game winning streak.
The loss dropped the NFC South-leading Saints (10-2) behind the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) in the race for homefield advantage in the NFC. The Saints’ next two games are on the road against divisional foes Tampa Bay (Dec. 9) and Carolina (Dec. 17).
I was as shocked as much by Thursday’ night’s outcome as the manner in which the NFC East-leading Cowboys (7-5) won the game. They dominated time of possession (36:53-23:07), held the Saints nearly four TDs below their season scoring average (37.2 ppg), neutralized game-changers WR Michael Thomas, RB Alvin Kamara and RB Mark Ingram and turned Brees every which way but loose.
Brees finished 18 of 28 for 127 yards with one TD and one INT for a season-low 71.6 passer rating. He entered the game on pace to shatter league records for completion percentage and passer rating, compiling eye-popping numbers of 76.4 percent and 127.3 percent with a stellar 29-2 TD-to-INT ratio.
Prior to the game, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett proclaimed Brees looked like a boyish 23-year-old playing a game he loved. Brees disagreed, saying, “I feel 25. I don’t feel 23.’‘
On Thursday night, the Cowboys made Brees look his age — he turns 40 on Jan. 15 — with two sacks, multiple hits and hurries and forced him to throw a crucial INT with 2:08 remaining that enabled them to run out the clock.
Moments earlier, the Saints forced a turnover at their 15-yard line to thwart a Cowboys scoring attempt and give the ball back to Brees. I quickly texted a friend: “My money is on No. 9 to win or force OT.’‘
The kiss of death, I guess. On second-and-5 from the 20, Brees threw flat-footed under pressure in the general direction of Kamara in the right flat and Cowboys CB Jordan Lewis cupped the ball in both hands before it hit the turf.
Afterward, Brees said the Cowboys prevented him from getting comfortable in the pocket and the Saints offense from finding a rhythm. Credit the Cowboys for applying pressure off the edge with ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and up the middle with tackles Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods.
The interior push prevented the 5-foot-11 Brees from stepping up into the pocket and finding a free passing lane.
I also thought Saints coach Sean Payton made several critical coaching errors, using up his two game challenges in the first quarter, calling his third and final timeout with 2:03 remaining when he should have waited for the two-minute warning and not utilizing the multi-talented Taysom Hill more on offense (seven snaps).
The Saints certainly played well enough on defense, sacking Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott seven times, forcing two turnovers and holding RB Ezekiel Elliott to 76 yards rushing on 23 carries.
In summation, I thought Lawrence had planted both feet in his mouth with inflammatory remarks earlier in the week, suggesting the Cowboys would administer an old fashioned butt-whipping the likes of which the Saints had not seen this season.
Lawrence proved to be a prophet.
The moral to this story? It ain’t bragging if you can do it.