NEW ORLEANS — As well as things had gone for the Dallas Cowboys in the first three games of the season, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said he would be prepared for nights like Sunday’s 12-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
The Cowboys entered the game with the NFL’s fourth-highest scoring offense (32.4 points), were third in yards (481.3 yards) and first in third-down conversions (58.1%).
They scored one touchdown on nine possessions, gained 257 yards and converted four of 11 third downs.
Despite all that, the Cowboys had a chance for a winning drive with under two minutes left. But it ended up like the rest of the night: too many mistakes and a Dak Prescott interception on the final Hail Mary attempt.
It wasted the best defensive effort of the season by the Cowboys even if New Orleans was starting backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The only time Sunday that the Cowboys’ offense looked like a semblance of itself in the first three games came on the opening possession of the second half when the team went 84 yards on 11 plays and gained as many first downs on that drive (six) as it had in the first half.
The vaunted running game was held in check with Ezekiel Elliott getting 35 yards in 18 carries, and the Cowboys turned it over three times with Elliott and Jason Witten fumbling, and Prescott’s last-gasp chance picked off.
The Cowboys had a chance to make a statement inside the Superdome, but instead are left with questions offensively for the first time this season.
Describe the game in two words: Defensive struggle. Maybe we should’ve seen this coming since last November these teams played a 13-10 contest with Drew Brees as the Saints quarterback.
Pivotal play: Many will focus on Elliott’s fourth-down fumble that set up the Saints’ field goal to close the first half, but on the previous play, Blake Jarwin ran his third-down route short of the chains, setting up coach Jason Garrett to make a fourth-down call in the first place. If Jarwin takes that route a yard farther, the Cowboys have a first down and potentially a chance to score on their final drive of the first half. In a game decided by mere inches, routes like that matter.
Promising trend: Prescott is now 28 of 28 for 457 yards with three touchdowns in the third quarter this season. He completed all six of his passes on the Cowboys’ only drive of the third quarter Sunday for 73 yards, including a 35-yard play-action completion to Jarwin that helped set up Elliott’s touchdown run. Maybe after four games it is no longer a trend, but the Cowboys certainly seem to be able to come up with answers at halftime. On Sunday, however, those were the only answers.