ARLINGTON, Texas — It was a victory for the Dallas Cowboys in against the Miami Dolphins, but they're not naive to how the game began simply because of how it ended. After dismantling their first two opponents in 2019 with a combined score of 66-28, they entered Sunday's contest as nearly 25-point favorites against the winless Dolphins, but sputtered to a 10-6 first-half lead that could've easily been a deficit going into halftime.
, including 14 points on their first two drives of the third quarter, but the message was sent and received that they are still responsible for keeping the same intensity at all times.
This is one reason you won't find them overlooking the New Orleans Saints in Week 4, in a game that was initially set to be a revenge match for the Saints that featured future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees seeking to set the record straight after having been mauled by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and Co. at AT&T Stadium last season. Brees was hit four times, sacked twice, hurried twice and intercepted once en route to a season-worst 127-yard game that came attached to a passer rating of 71.6.
Instead of facing an angered Brees, though, the Cowboys will take on backup Teddy Bridgewater -- who stepped in as starter following the torn thumb ligament suffered by Brees in the Saints' losing battle against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2. Out for the next several weeks, head coach Sean Payton gave Bridgewater the nod with full confidence he could carry the load. One week later, Bridgewater has now led the Saints to 33-27 upset win against the Seahawks in one of the most hostile NFL environments at CenturyLink Field, and his doubters are currently muted.
As he readies to take on the Cowboys for the first time in his career, he's looking to keep the Saints marching in and onward, and linebacker Jaylon Smith knows what Bridgewater can do on a football field. He may have been a backup the last two seasons, but it's mostly due to a career that's been wrought with injury, and not because he lacks ability. A former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, Bridgewater landed honors as Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year and a nod to the PFWA All-Rookie Team, before also being named to the Pro Bowl in his second season.
That said, don't presume a slow start for the Cowboys, who are not taking Bridgewater for granted.
"Teddy's a hell of a player as well," Smith told me. "Any time you're playing against the New Orleans Saints, especially going to the Superdome -- I'm looking forward to that."
When I asked safety Jeff Heath about the upcoming Battle in the Bayou, he mirrored Smith's sentiment while taking it one step further.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing or where we're playing," he said. "We understand we're going into a hostile environment and it's Sunday Night Football. It's gonna be rocking. They're a good team no matter who they have at quarterback.
"They're a good team, and obviously we'd like to start faster in all three phases, but we're going to approach that game like we approach every game -- try to play our best."
Bridgewater may not have played lights out in his first start of 2019, but he was efficient -- took no sacks, didn't fumble and didn't toss an interception. Aided by the usual suspects in running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas, the Saints held a 27-7 lead through three quarters in Seattle before the defense began to struggle against Russell Wilson in the fourth session.
Jerry Jones has seen what Bridgewater can do from afar -- both on the ground and in the air -- and will do his part to make sure the Cowboys are locked in for a primetime showdown that could launch them to their first 4-0 start since 2007; when the team finished 13-3.
"The [Saints] have so much team-wise to compete with, as they demonstrated out in Seattle — of all places," Jones said to 105.3FM The Fan on Tuesday. "From top to bottom, they're built for action and built to play and built to win football games. They think way ahead. That Teddy Bridgewater, everybody knows he's a talented football player — especially with people like Sean Payton tutoring him — he can be everything you want in a quarterback."
There's no love lost between these two teams, and history has proven anything is possible when they lock horns. The Cowboys might enter as favorites by virtue of Brees' absence, but they must still contend with defense that can change games, a savvy Super Bowl-winning coach in Payton, and the fact Bridgewater wants to use them as a springboard to prove he's still the same guy the Vikings selected in the first round half a decade ago.
While it's true the Cowboys recovered nicely from a slow start against a tank-worthy Dolphins team, it would behoove them to not test those waters again in the Crescent City -- regardless of who the QB is.thanks to his mobility and big arm, and Bridgewater can do the same if the sacks don't arrive early for the Cowboys.
As it stands, they have but one goal in mind defensively, and that's to -- respectfully -- make Bridgewater nothing more than water under the bridge.