Changes coming for Cowboys after big loss to Saints?

If the Jason Garrett era comes to a halt at the end of this season, a 49-17 loss in New Orleans may loom as the watershed moment. There’s certainly no shame in losing to Sean Payton and Drew Brees in the Superdome– unless you play like the Cowboys did Sunday night.

It’s hard to believe the Cowboys were in this game at one point because all hope vanished as the Saints scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to take a commanding 28-10 lead. New Orleans had more than 600 yards of total offense, including a 145-yard rushing effort from Mark Ingram. Once Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee left with a hamstring injury in the second quarter, the Cowboys were basically done for the evening. But let’s not act like one injury is the reason the Cowboys got waxed in New Orleans.

The offense was pitiful against a Saints team that also wasn’t playing at full strength for much of the evening. Former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan put a game plan together that basically erased wide receiver Dez Bryant from the proceedings. He didn’t just shade a safety in Bryant’s direction, though. He sent two defensive backs to line up across from Bryant for much of the game. It almost looked comical at times, but it worked. Bryant finally broke free for a 44-yard catch when the Saints held a 35-10 lead.

The Cowboys’ offense actually turned to the running game while taking a 10-7 lead. DeMarco Murray knifed through the Saints’ defense for 81 yards in the first half. But Tony Romo and his receivers couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Romo had only 20 yards passing at the half. With Bryant locked down, he couldn’t find any rhythm in the passing game. The Cowboys were 0-for-9 on third downs, while the Saints were 9-of-12. It didn’t matter when Saints quarterback Drew Brees faced third-and-long situations  because he simply connected with wide-open receivers.

This game was obviously personal for Ryan, and he put together a beautiful game plan. Of course, the Cowboys aided him with mind-numbing mistakes. A false start on James Hanna took the Cowboys from third-and-1 to third-and-6 when they had a chance to capitalize on a fumble recovery on special teams. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admitted that his decision to dump Ryan in favor of Monte Kiffin looked pretty bad Sunday.

“We thought it was best for us to go in the direction that we are, and it doesn’t look good right now,” Jones told reporters at the Superdome. “Hopefully we can make it look good, but I have all the feelings that you have when you want to look back at a decision, and I realize when some of them work you have to have a few things go along with it.

“Candidly, we’re having some of the same things that Rob had last year. Frankly, to be fair to Rob, he lost a lot of guys on defense. We lost more this year. That’s the game, though. That’s what we play. That’s the NFL.”

The Cowboys (5-5) were humiliated by the Saints in all areas in Sunday’s loss. And with the Eagles (5-5) beating the Packers on Sunday, Dallas no longer has any cushion in the NFC East race. After the bye, the Cowboys will face a Giants team that has won three consecutive games. The Giants could potentially improve to 5-6 with a win over the Cowboys. And who knows what the Eagles’ record will be at that point.

What we know now is the Cowboys played the type of game Sunday that will make an owner wonder about the future of his head coach. Jerry might be the eternal optimist, but everything was coming up half empty after Sunday’s defeat.

The only positive is the Cowboys can’t lose next Sunday. Other than that, it was a disastrous evening in New Orleans.