Things didn't start out on an ideal note for either offense, with both teams stumbling due to a mix of good defense and poor execution en route to the Dallas Cowboys handing the New Orleans Saints a 27-17 loss at Caesars Superdome on Thursday night, and despite the absence of head coach Mike McCarthy, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. As recently as early November, these two teams were on wildly different trajectories than they were entering this matchup.
The Cowboys were winners of six straight and not only in complete control of the NFC East, but in commanding fashion that also put them in position to try and secure the No. 1 seed in the conference. The Saints were 5-2 and hot off of a victory over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- ready to make waves in the NFC South and possibly more. But going into their prime-time battle in Week 13, the Cowboys dropped three of their last four games and the Saints lost four straight.
Something had to give for one of these clubs, and it did, with the Cowboys using their defense to pummel Taysom Hill into submission and delete another uneven performance by their offensive counterparts.
Why the Cowboys won
It was Dak Prescott and Co. who drew first blood, on a drive in the first quarter that looked a lot like the usually prolific group the NFL has become accustomed to seeing from Dallas -- big plays coming from both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb (who both returned in Week 13) and capped off by a twisting touchdown catch by Michael Gallup. Not to be outdone, Taysom Hill went back to work with the goal of making a case for himself as permanent starter for the Saints, and he got help from wideout Lil'Jordan Humphrey on a 24-yard touchdown to open the second quarter.
But just when you thought it would become a barn burner, things cooled down offensively once again, and the Cowboys were nursing a six-point lead the Saints hoped they could prevent from becoming anything more -- especially considering Dallas had the first offensive possession of the second half.
Hill and the Saints threatened to hit pay dirt for the second time in the first half but rookie sensation Micah Parsons and the Cowboys' defense would have none of it. Parsons dropped back in coverage on second-and-10 from Dallas' 26-yard line to deliver a pass break up that nearly landed harmlessly onto the turf, if not for safety Jayron Kearse diving while simultaneously dragging both feet to secure an eye-popping interception at Dallas' 5-yard line, grabbing a takeaway that served as a gut punch to Hill.
From there, it was an all-out onslaught by the Cowboys' defense that ruled the day -- landing four interceptions on the evening and, in doing so, tying a franchise mark set in December 2010 -- which even included a pick-six from defensive lineman Carlos Watkins. A two-game losing streak is now ended for Dallas, and it can thank Dan Quinn (who also had duties as interim head coach) and his defense for stealing the gumbo out of Sean Payton's kitchen.
Why the Saints lost
Things didn't start off much better for either team's offense early in the third quarter, with the Cowboys going three-and-out on their first possession of the second half before Hill found himself having his way on the subsequent drive for the Saints, but it ended with a field goal by kicker Brett Maher. But, just like that, electricity found its way onto the field, but not for the Saints. It was running back Tony Pollard exploding for a 58-yard touchdown run that shell shocked Payton's bunch and was the haymaker the Saints never truly recovered from.
Hill attempted to impose his will yet again though, by way of an unforgettable hurdle over safety Damontae Kazee, but Parsons introduced himself yet again -- a critical third-down sack giving him 10 on the season. That takedown opened the fourth quarter with a bang for the Cowboys defense, who then took the entire lid off of the can of, well, you know.
Despite Prescott making an ill-advised throw that became easy pickings for cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the interception giving Hill yet another chance to try and make something happen, they still couldn't capitalize. In fact, the wheels instead fell off completely, with Hill throwing a second interception (this time on a throw tipped by Jourdan Lewis and caught by Kazee) followed by a third (giving Trevon Diggs his ninth INT on the season) and then a fourth (a pick-six by Watkins) to effectively bury New Orleans in its own stadium.
With a huge opportunity to prove he can be the quarterback of the future for the Saints, and shortly after having signed a hefty hybrid extension that would earn him millions more if he does, Hill instead showed the world he's still great at running the football but not so much at throwing it -- completing just 19 of his 41 passes to go along with those four interceptions and a passer rating of 44.2. The Saints needed him to cook, as a quarterback, but all he did was burn the jambalaya.
After trading interceptions and the Saints holding out hope for a miracle, it was a big man interception and touchdown by Watkins that nailed the coffin shut in New Orleans.
Play of the game
Tony Pollard called game.
This Lamb isn't a sheep
"It feels good to leave home with a dub to go back home." -- CeeDee Lamb, via Jon Machota of The Athletic
The Cowboys will get ready to face the Washington Football Team for their first battle of 2021, while the Saints head east to take on the New York Jets.