The Dallas Cowboys can’t help themselves.
Try as they might to shake the stench of mediocrity, they simply are who they are.
That point was driven home in convincing as well as embarrassing fashion Sunday night with a 49-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome and before a national television audience.
Instead of getting a breakthrough road win and building momentum for a realistic playoff run following next week’s bye, the Cowboys got a monumental beatdown, leaving no questions how far they remain from the NFL’s elite teams.
“I didn’t expect this. I didn’t see this coming,” a despondent Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “They did a great job tonight. We were the recipients of it.
“They deserve anything you say about a team thoroughly and physically beating your team. The Saints did that. It doesn’t feel good. It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to lose. It’s embarrassing to not be representative. It’s embarrassing to not be competitive.”
The Saints and quarterback Drew Brees did all the damage in a span of 5 minutes, 5 seconds in the second quarter, scoring three touchdowns to turn a 14-10 Cowboys lead into a 28-10 cushion at halftime.
A Cowboys defense — which has battled injuries all season and opened the game without defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, safety J.J. Wilcox and nickel cornerback Morris Claiborne before losing leading tackler and team leader Sean Lee with a hamstring injury in the second quarter — had no answers.
Brees put up video-game numbers against what was already the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense, completing 26 of 30 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. He finished 34 of 41 for 392 and four touchdowns for the night.
Brees just missed being the fifth quarterback to top the 400-yard mark against the Cowboys this year. But that’s because the Saints were so dominant in so many phases. They complemented Brees with 242 yards on the ground. Their total of 625 was a team record for the Saints and the most ever in a game against the Cowboys, just topping the 623 put up by the Detroit Lions two weeks ago.
New Orleans had 40 first downs, breaking the all-time, single-game NFL record.
Said tight end Jason Witten: “It was a tough game. They outplayed us. They kicked our tails pretty good. We’ve got a bye and we have to re-evaluate.”
Instead of distancing themselves in a down NFC East division, the Cowboys (5-5) have fallen back in a first-place tie with the Philadelphia Eagles (5-5). And they have given the New York Giants, who began the season with six straight losses, hope. The Giants (3-6) have won three straight and have a winnable game against the suddenly struggling Green Bay Packers before a possible showdown against the Cowboys Nov. 24, following Dallas ’ bye.
It’s all fitting for a Cowboys team that simply can’t shake what has been more than a decade of mediocrity. The Cowboys are back to .500 coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons and have a record of 123-123 since 1997.
The Cowboys defense certainly showed no resistance at all against the Saints Sunday night.
But the Cowboys offense didn’t provide much help in controlling the ball or the tempo after a surprising early surge on the ground.
One week after running it a franchise-low nine times in a 27-24 victory against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys came out running against the Saints. They had eight runs to just three passes in the first quarter, and they led 10-7 in the second quarter before the Saints’ surge because of their dominance on the ground.
Running back DeMarco Murray gained 67 yards on a 72-yard scoring drive, including a 35-yard scamper and a 7-yard touchdown.
Murray had 78 rushing yards on the first two Cowboys’ possessions and 22 the rest of the way, as what appeared to be recipe of success proved to be an aberration.
Brees followed an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 1-yard pass to Pierre Thomas. A three-and-out by the Cowboys offense was followed by a 52-yard scoring drive and a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Darren Sproles.
Brees then hit Sproles with a 28-yard touchdown pass with 5 seconds remaining in the first half.
It was not just an indictment of the Cowboys defense. It was a team effort.
Quarterback Tony Romo was off the mark for much of the night, completing just 10 of 24 passes with a touchdown to Terrance Williams late in the third quarter.
Receiver Dez Bryant was held to just one catch for 44 yards, with that coming late in the third quarter. Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten had two catches for 27 yards.
The Cowboys totaled 193 yards on offense, the fewest as a team since 1998.
“They are a good football team,” coach Jason Garrett said of the Saints. “We knew we had to slow them down. We felt we had to take away their run and make them one-dimensional. We didn’t do that.
“They were able to drive the ball consistently throughout the game. There were very few plays we stopped. They were able to do what they wanted in the running and passing game. Drew Brees was fantastic. And on offense you have to answer. We weren’t able to answer.”
The question is, do the Cowboys have any answers going forward to regain control of the NFC East race and reach the playoffs, especially with their continued problems on defense and injury issues.
They hope to use the bye to find out.
Though disappointed, Jones is not ready to give up hope.
“We are at 10 games,” Jones said. “We got six more to go. We got to put a plan together that allows us to have a shot at this thing. What we are trying to do is get in the playoffs and go from there. We can do something about it. And see if we can have a happier day this year, not next year, but this year.”