For a few brief seconds it appeared that the Cowboys had delivered the knockout blow to the New Orleans Saints. Roy Williams was racing down the field after catching a slant pass from Jon Kitna. Not only was it a first down conversion, but Roy was racing for a gain of 47 yards all the way to the Saints 11 yard line. But then there was suddenly a scrum for the ball after the play. The Saints had stripped the ball from Roy Williams as they tackled him and recovered the ball.
Against most quarterbacks that would have been ok. But Drew Brees went into all-pro mode and proceeded to throw three picture perfect passes to quickly take the Saints 89 yards to the game clinching touchdown. The worst play on the drive was a 55 yards pass to Robert Meachem on 3rd and 10. Terence Newman bit on a double move trying to prevent a first down and Meachem raced all the way to the Cowboys 12 yard line.
On the one hand you have to be proud of the Dallas Cowboys in this game. They quickly got themselves in a 17-0 hole in the first quarter. Only a few weeks ago this team would have folded and the game would have been an embarrassing blowout. But things have changed under Jason Garrett. Not only did the team battle to keep withing striking distance but they came out on fire in the second half. And the Cowboys really had the game won late in the 4th quarter but the Saints made a play that a Super Bowl winning team makes to win a game. They even had a shot to force overtime although asking David Buehler to hit a 59-yarder was too much to ask of an inconsistent kicker.
I'm usually not into moral victories but I have to admit I am still proud of the way my team played. The Cowboys nearly took down the Super Bowl champions without Tony Romo, arguably the best player on the team. And the Cowboys battled back from 17 points down. I am now absolutely convinced that the Cowboys have found their head coach. Jason Garrett found a way at halftime to make adjustments and motivate his players to get back into the game. I seriously doubt we would have seen a comeback like that with Wade Phillips running the show.
On offense the Cowboys weren't great against the Saints. Jon Kitna was very inconsistent throughout the game. He had some nice throws but he also missed some easy passes. A lot of people of jumped on the Kitna bandwagon, and he has performed admirably, but the offense misses Tony Romo. I have no doubt that the Cowboys would have won the game on the last drive with Romo at quarterback. For some reason Kitna can't throw the wide receiver screen without getting it batted down or intercepted. Considering that the wide receiver screen is one of the best plays in the Cowboys playbook that is a big problem. And Kitna sometimes checks out of his plays too early allowing the defense to audible to counteract the play change. Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming Kitna for the loss. I'm just pointing out that the Cowboys do miss Romo more than the box score indicates.
The running game still needs a lot of work. The offensive line is not consistently opening running lanes in the middle of the field. I know part of the problem is that defenses don't respect Kitna they way they do Romo so they often crowd eight men in the box, but the Cowboys should be able to run better than they are right now. Felix Jones averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and Marion Barber averaged a pathetic 1.9 yards.
I think we need to come to grips with the fact that defense has some major problems. Although they did stop the Saints for a few series in the second half, Drew Brees basically passed at will against the secondary. The pass rush was inconsistent. And when the team needed a big play from the defense after the Roy Williams fumble the defense gave up a touchdown nearly before you could blink. It would have been nice if it would have felt like the Saints at least had to battle down the field to get the game clinching touchdown, but they went 89 yards on just five plays for the score.
And even with major flaws on offense, defense and special teams showing up in the game the Cowboys still found themselves with the lead late in the game and with a shot to tie as the clock was winding down. That can only happen if your team is battling for four quarters and doing the little things right. In the end it was still a loss, but you can at least hold your head up high if you wear your Dallas Cowboys gear out in public this weekend. The Cowboys are playing with pride and they are playing with heart.