The Dallas Cowboys still can’t stay healthy.
And suddenly, they can’t win.
Now the team’s greatest fears following the loss of quarterback Tony Romo for seven games are being realized, putting their dreams of keeping their playoff hopes alive until he returns in serious jeopardy.
Just a few days before Sunday’s 26-20 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints, vice president Stephen Jones said it plainly: “If we go O-fer while Tony’s out, we’re probably out of it.”
The Cowboys have played two games without Romo and they have two losses, Sunday’s loss following the 39-28 setback to the Atlanta Falcons.
But this loss was more telling, more costly and potentially more devastating.
The Cowboys lost linebacker Sean Lee in the first half with a concussion. Lance Dunbar injured his left knee on a second-half kickoff return. Wide receiver Brice Butler injured his hamstring in the third quarter.
Credit quarterback Drew Brees for his brilliance the entire game and a perfect throw in overtime.
He hit a wide-open running back C.J. Spiller for an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown pass two plays into the extra period, sending the crowd at Mercedes Benz Superdome into a “Stand up and Get Krunk” frenzy.
Spiller beat rookie linebacker Damien Wilson, who was playing in place of the injured Lee, for the score.
“It was tough,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “It should have never even came down to that. We were giving up our edge. It’s a just a frustrating loss.”
One week after missing the previous game with a supposedly season-threatening rotator cuff injury, Brees returned to complete 33 of 41 passes for 359 passes and two touchdowns against the Cowboys.
It was the first victory of the season for the previous winless Saints (1-3), who also snapped a six-game home losing streak.
The Cowboys saw their 10-game road winning streak dating to 2013 come to an end, while backup quarterback Brandon Weeden lost his 10th straight game as a starter, dating to 2012 when he was with the Cleveland Browns.
But this loss was not about Weeden being hapless.
He rallied the Cowboys from a 20-13 deficit with a 91-yard drive late in the fourth quarter.
Weeden’s 17-yard pass to a diving Terrance Williams tied the game with 1 minute, 51 seconds left.
Weeden completed 16 of 26 passes for 246 yards. He is now 0-3 as a starter in place of Romo.
“I thought he did real good,” owner Jerry Jones said. “He did good all night long. He took his initial look and threw it. He does some real good things, though it’s not quite apples and oranges when the guy on the other side of the deal is Brees and you’re dealing with a guy who is as limited as Weeden. We got in it even running out of time, or short-handed, in 2-minute or what have you, then these quarterbacks like Brees make a difference.”
It only went to overtime because Saints kicker Zach Hocker missed a game-winning, 30-yard field goal with 12 seconds to go in regulation.
Still, the Cowboys get no rewards for coming close.
They are 2-2 after a 2-0 start to the season and face the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (3-0), who are undefeated and coming off a bye, next Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Although the Cowboys will be boosted by the returns of defensive Greg Hardy and middle linebacker Rolando McClain from NFL suspensions, they lost Dunbar to a potential season-ending knee injury. Lee, the team’s leading tackler, will be a question mark next week.
The Cowboys will again be without Romo, receiver Dez Bryant (fractured foot) and defensive end Randy Gregory (sprained ankle).
The Cowboys now go forward with huge question marks about the running game that is suddenly non existent.
Joseph Randle rushed 11 times for 26 yards in game. He ran for 14 yards on his first carry of the game and 12 on his final 10.
Darren McFadden had 10 carries for 31 yards and Christine Michael, who was active for the first time all season, had 1 carry for -1 yard.
The loss of Dunbar is huge because he came into the game tied for the team lead in receptions with 21 and first in yards with 215. He had a 45-yard run before being injured against the Saints.
And while the Cowboys defense registered a season-high three sacks, they could not contain Brees, who riddled the Cowboys with short passes underneath the entire night.
That will be a huge issue next Sunday against Tom Brady and Patriots even with the return of Hardy and McClain.
Will 0-2 without Romo turn to 0-3 and then when will it end?
The Cowboys have a bye Oct. 18 and then play at the New York Giants (2-2) before hosting the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles. They have a road game against the Tampa Buccaneers on Nov. 15 before Romo is expected to return to face the Dolphins on Nov. 22