And it started exactly how it needed to start Saturday night in New Orleans.
Looking to knock off one of two remaining undefeated teams, the Dallas Cowboys drove 79 yards on five plays culminating with a Tony
Romo-to-Miles Austin touchdown on their opening possession.
It was the
first time the Cowboys had a touchdown on their opening drive since the
club went 71 yards in five plays with a Romo-to-Martellus Bennett
touchdown hookup against Seattle and it helped set the one for the best of performance of the season.
And it was only a hint of things to come.
“Things weren’t going well for us with two losses,” Dallas head coach coach Wade Phillips said afterwards. “But I didn’t think this team could get beat three times in a row.”
Dallas parlayed its opening drive success into a 24-3 second-half lead before holding on for dear life for one of the most-needed victories in recent memory.
Tony Romo threw for 312 yards and a touchdown, including a 49-yard bomb to Miles Austin before the Saints went to work in the fourth quarter.
Dallas parlayed its opening drive success into a 24-3 second-half lead before holding on for dear life for victory. (Getty Images)
Mike Bell, who wasn't expected to play, scored on a 1-yard run to make it 24-10 with 12:35 to go. Drew Brees then followed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore with 8 minutes left, cutting the Dallas lead to 24-17.
The Cowboys then took to the air on what would be their final drive of the game.
Facing a deafening crowd Romo calmly directed the Cowboys deep into New Orleans territory, setting up a chip-shot field goal for what has proven to be one of the more erratic kickers in the league this year in Nick Folk.
Of course, the third-year kicker and former Pro Bowler hit the right upright on the 23-yard attempt sending the Superdome crowd into a frenzy.
With the fate of the season in the balance, not to mention the likely future of head coach Wade Phillips as well, Dallas then turned to its defense for one final stop ... and that's exactly what it provided.
The Saints drove to midfield in the final minute, but DeMarcus Ware stripped Brees for the second time in the game and tackle Jay Ratliff recovered, securing the much-needed win.
It was Ware's second sack of the game - both of which forced fumbles. The first one help set up a Dallas field goal shortly before halftime to push the lead to 17-3.
Ware practiced all week despite being taken off the field last week on a stretcher after spraining his neck against San Diego.
"If I'm going to be out there, I'm going to give it 110 percent," Ware said. "I thin kthis is a win that is going to propel us going forward."
Former first-round pick Anthony Spencer also had two sacks on the evening to help pace the Dallas defense, which harrassed Brees all evening long.
The Cowboys also established the ground game in the upset win, rushing for 145 yards to just 65 for New Orleans.
But in the end it was Romo's night for sure as he threw for a team-record 156 yards in the first quarter on his way to picking up just his sixth win in the month of December in his Dallas career.
"Everybody was talking about them and nobody was talking about us," Romo said. "That motivated us a lot. They were undefeated and chasing history. this one feels real real good."
It was also a much-needed win for Phillips, who now improves to 4-8 in the month of December as the Dallas head coach.
The loss by the Saints (13-1) leaves the Indianapolis Colts (14-0) as the NFL's only unbeaten team this season.
"We'll digest this," Saints head coach Sean Payton said.
"Nonetheless, it is what it is and we've got to get back to work
next week. We have two important games in front of us and we'll
take that approach."
Dallas, now 9-5 after the win, returns to action next week at arch rival Washington before closing the 2009 season at home against Philadelphia.
NOTES: The Cowboys amassed 439 yards of total offense today to give them 5,523
through 14 games - the most in team history through 14 games.