With Tony Romo and Dez Bryant sidelined on offense, the hope had been that the Dallas Cowboys’ defense could become a difference-making unit.
After two straight underwhelming outings, it’s safe to say that’s a pipe dream. What the unit must be, though, is something that keeps the Cowboys in games and doesn’t lose them.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday night.
The defense saw C.J. Spiller run free on an 80-yard pass play from Drew Brees, sending the Saints to a 26-20 overtime victory.
It might have been fitting considering how Brees picked apart the defense late in the game, setting up a chip-shot field goal that Zach Hocker banged off the left upright.
On that two-minute drive at the end of regulation, Brees operated with relative ease. He hit Marques Colston for a 7-yard pass on second down, and then found Willie Snead for a 17-yard gain two plays later. On the next play, Brees connected with Brandon Coleman for 30 yards to get in what most feel is chip-shot field goal range.
But Hocker botched the 30-yard attempt.
It didn’t matter in the end, though. Brees needed only two plays in overtime to get the Saints a victory as Spiller ran open out of the backfield to haul in a pass by Brees. Spiller broke a tackle and then sprinted to the end zone.
“I thought that was a well-designed play at the end,” owner Jerry Jones said. “They brought him in right in behind our rookie who came in when we had an injured player there. That was vintage Sean Payton and I think that was good coaching to get that play in.”
It’s another frustrating outing for a defense that opened the season strong.
The unit didn’t have a takeaway for the second consecutive game. Takeaways is what this defense thrived on a season ago, ranking second in the NFL with 31.
They had a chance early in the game, too, but cornerback Tyler Patmon dropped a sure interception by Brees on the second series.
Brees bounced back on the next series, dissecting the Cowboys’ defense with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped with a 3-yard TD pass to Josh Hill.
That was the only scoring drive the Cowboys gave up in the first half. The Saints had a drive in which they converted on third-and-11 and third-and-13, but the Cowboys came through with a key third down stop when DeMarcus Lawrence sacked Brees to force a punt.
That was Lawrence’s first career regular-season sack.
Another young player, rookie Byron Jones, had a standout series when the Saints took over with 1:50 left in the first half. Jones made a couple of nice open-field tackles to force another three-and-out.
Dallas held New Orleans to a couple of field goal drives to open the second half, but couldn’t get the stops when it mattered most.
Brees led the Saints on an 11-play, 67-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter as they took a 20-13 lead on a 1-yard TD run by Khiry Robinson.
The defense did make a stand to give the offense another chance with 4:05 left, and they did capitalize with a TD.
But the last two series decided the game and the defense simply didn’t make enough plays.
On the bright side, the Cowboys have help on the way.
Linebacker Rolando McClain, their best run stopper a year ago, and defensive end Greg Hardy are expected to rejoin the team next week after serving four-game suspensions.