ARLINGTON -- DeMarcus Lawrence didn't launch into his profane assessment on how to beat New Orleans in the hours leading up to Thursday night's game to call attention to himself.
The intent wasn't to demean the Saints by talking about how the Cowboys needed to hit them in the [expletive] mouth, make them question their offensive brilliance then choke them [expletive] out.
The Pro Bowl defender was displaying the confidence he has in this group. He issued these words as a challenge to ensure himself and his teammates would live up to the hype.
The Cowboys defense did just that.
The admiration and awe showered on the Saints offense heading into this game now belongs to the Dallas defense. The Cowboys set a rugged, relentless tone and didn't let up on their way to a surprising 13-10 victory at AT&T Stadium.
Lawrence and Co. have been pushing hard this season to be recognized as one of the NFL's elite defenses. Mission accomplished, and not in the sense of prematurely raising a banner.
A New Orleans team that came into the game averaging a league-high 37.2 points was shut out in the first half for the first time in four years. The Saints lost for the first time in more than 11 weeks because the Dallas defense allowed them to scrape together only 176 yards, held them to three of 11 on third down and forced a crucial turnover in the closing moments.
"The defense played beyond my expectations,'' owner Jerry Jones said. "They played like a championship defense.''
The talk in the NFL this season has been how the sport may be on the verge of a new, explosive era. New Orleans, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams have been at the forefront of this offensive surge.
Dallas reminded all those visionaries what a team with a dominant defense can do late in the season.
"When the defense plays like that,'' Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said, pausing for a second to search for the right words.
"I mean, an incredible game.''
Drew Brees came into the game as a favorite in the MVP conversation. He left completing 18 of 28 passes for 127 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"Good pass rush team,'' said Brees, whose 39 yards passing in the first half was his lowest total since he was with San Diego in 2004. "I felt like we didn't really find our rhythm pretty much the whole game.
"We may have had one decent drive for the most part.''
There were two key swings.
New Orleans had a first-and-goal on the Dallas 7-yard line early in the second quarter. On third-and-4, a short pass to Alvin Kamara got the Saints down to the 1-yard line.
Sean Payton went for the touchdown. Kamara took the ball out of the shotgun and was pulled down from behind on the 2-yard line by Lawrence.
Brett Maher kicked a 46-yard field goal to end a 16-play, 71-yard drive to send the Cowboys into the locker room with a 13-0 lead.
A Prescott fumble gave the Saints the ball on their own 15-yard line with 2:35 left. On the second play of the possession, Brees tried to throw the ball away but it was picked off by Jourdan Lewis to seal the victory.
"I melted in on the quarterback's eyes, saw it was great pressure from the D-line, just saw him throw it and reacted,'' Lewis said.
"Obviously, that was the biggest play of the game,'' Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
The biggest of many.
It wasn't all idyllic. Five defensive penalties by the Cowboys on the Saints first two possessions of the third quarter led to those 10 points. Randy Gregory appeared to be on a crusade to personally hand the game to New Orleans with a facemask penalty and running into the kicker call that resulted in 30 yards.
But the Cowboys defense righted itself. Coordinator Rod Marinelli likes the swagger his players have shown on defense as this season progresses. His stance: If the players back it up with their performance, it's fine.
The swagger is justified. The Saints had scored 45 or more points in three of the four games heading into this one. This is a New Orleans team that beat Philadelphia 48-7 earlier this month.
The Cowboys have now held opponents to 20 points or less in eight games this season.
"We lock in on what we need to do,'' Garrett said. "We're fundamentally sound, play fast, physical, hard and play together.
"We have a tremendous spirit, a tremendous nature on defense that is contagious throughout the team. Leaps off the tape.''
That should now be evident around the league.
This group has arrived.
"If you capitalize on a team early, you've got to step on their throats like I said and don't let them back up,'' Lawrence said. "I'm excited for all my guys.
"I'm glad we had this battle to see what a real championship team looks like. We've got to move forward and go on to the next one.''
Source: dallasnews | David Moore | November 29th, 2018