The Dallas Cowboys are no longer perfect.
The offense that opened the season running like a well-oiled machine finally slipped a few gears in a 12-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the frenzied Superdome Sunday night.
It was the first big test for a Cowboys team that faced the Giants (2-2), Redskins (0-4) and Dolphins (0-4) before going to the Big Easy and hoping for a coronation on Bourbon Street.
Why else would owner Jerry Jones be walking the streets celebrating with hordes of inebriated Cowboys fans who made the trip the night before the game?
They were facing a Saints team playing without quarterback Drew Brees and hoped to make a prime-time statement that the Cowboys were back.
But instead of going 4-0 for the first time since 2007, the Cowboys (3-1) headed home Sunday night with questions hanging over their head following the humbling loss to the Saints in which quarterback Dak Prescott passed for a season-low 223 yards, recorded no touchdown passes and had an interception on a Hail Mary on the game’s final play.
Have the Cowboys been exposed?
Do opponents now have a book on Prescott and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, considering a Saints defense that came into the league ranked 30th against the pass kept the Cowboys’ big-play passing game in check.
The Cowboys offense saw a team-record streak of four straight games of at least 30 points and 400 yards, dating back to last season, come to an end against the Saints.
The Cowboys won their first three-games by double digits but were unable to come up with plays in the fourth quarter when finally challenged by the Saints.
It wasn’t just the passing game. Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed 18 times for 35 yards as the Saints defense was able to stop the run and contain the Cowboys passing game.
The Cowboys killed two potential drives in the first half with fumbles by Elliott and tight end Jason Witten.
Prescott entered the game leading the league in completion percentage, passing yards per attempt and quarterback rating. He was second in pass rating and touchdown passes.
He completed 11 of 15 passes for 81 yards in the first half and finished 22 of 33 for 223 yards and a 73.2 quarterback rating.
The task won’t get easier for the Cowboys, as they face quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers next Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Dak Prescott continues 3rd quarter magic but not enough
Quarterback Dak Prescott didn’t have a bad first half against the Saints. He completed 11 of 15 passes for 81 yards against a defense intent on not giving up the big play and forcing everything underneath.
He would like to have back a missed throw to Randall Cobb in the back of the end zone. Prescott did a great job to avoid the sack but missed a wide-open Cobb, forcing the Cowboys to settle for a field goal on the second drive of the game. Two other drives were killed by fumbles by tight end Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott as the Cowboys had just three points at halftime.
But when the second half started, Prescott turned on his third-quarter magic.
He entered the game 22-of-22 for 384 yards with three touchdowns passing in the third quarter in the first three games combined.
On Sunday, he took the Cowboys 84 yards on 11 plays, completing 6 of 6 passes for 73 yards, including a 35-yarder to Blake Jarwin. The drive ended with a 1-yard run by Elliott to give the Cowboys their first lead of the game at 10-9.
The fourth quarter was another story for Prescott and the Cowboys as he was 5 of 12 and had an interception on the final play of the game.
Tight end Jason Witten’s surprising fumble
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has long been the team’s Mr. Reliable. He makes few mistakes. He is always where is supposed to be. He is a coach on the field. Yada, yada, yada.
But typifying the team’s struggles on offense in the first half was a 16-yard pass to Witten on third-and-4 by quarterback Dak Prescott.
It would have given the Cowboys a first down and some momentum, but A.J. Klein knocked the ball out of Witten’s arm from behind and the Saints recovered.
It was Witten’s first lost fumble since Week 15 in 2016 against Tampa Bay.
It was just the ninth fumble of his 16-year career and only the sixth lost fumble.
Luckily, the defense forced a punt. But it was typical of the team’s play on offense all night.
Jason Garrett’s gutsy call, Zeke Elliott’s controversial fumble
Give coach Jason Garrett credit. The offense hadn’t done much all night and every time they got something good, disaster struck.
Down 6-3 with 1:36 left in the first half, Garrett decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Cowboys 43. The Saints called timeout in hopes of getting the ball back.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott got the first down with a 2-yard run but the ball came out and the Saints recovered. It appeared his elbow was down before the fumble but replay officials upheld the call on the field.
Eight plays later, thanks to a roughing the passer penalty on defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and a slow clock operator, the Saints kicked a 19-yard field goal as time expired to take a 9-3 lead at halftime.
It was also typical of Elliott’s night. He rushed 18 times for 35 yards.
Robert Quinn, defense bring the heat
The Cowboys defense had its best outing of the season, holding running back Alvin Kamara and receiver Michael Thomas largely in check.
Kamara had 17 carries for 69 yards, and Thomas caught nine balls for 95 yards.
But the Cowboys kept the Saints out of the end zone.
They notched a season-high five sacks against quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and cornerback Chido Awuzie had a first-quarter interception that led to a field goal. It was the first interception of the season for the Cowboys. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was all over the field.
But it was defensive end Robert Quinn who proved to be the difference-maker of the defense with two sacks and relentless pressure all night.
Quinn is the first Cowboys player to have sacks in his first two games with the team since Randy Watts did it in 1987. It was the 16th double-digit sack of Quinn’s career, his first with the Cowboys.
It was sacks by Quinn and linebacker Jaylon Smith on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter that gave the ball back to the offense with chances to win the game.
Up next: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers (3-1) and noted Cowboys killer Aaron Rodgers will travel to AT&T Stadium next Sunday.
The Packers are coming off their first loss of the season, a 34-27 setback to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. They will play the Cowboys after a 10-day layoff to lick their wounds, but they could be without No. 1 receiver Davante Adams, who suffered a toe injury against the Eagles. The Packers have won seven of the last eight against the Cowboys, including three straight AT&T Stadium.
But this is about the Cowboys and another test they must pass. The Cowboys will go in with concerns about left tackle Tyron Smith, who suffered a high ankle sprain on the final drive of the game.