Beating Saints puts Cowboys on road to recovery
After a wild Saturday night in New Orleans, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys woke up Sunday with a whole new outlook on things.
Here's a short list of what beating the previously perfect Saints in the noisy Superdome means for them:
- Their season is far from a lost cause.
Instead of carrying a three-game losing streak and fading playoff chances into the last two games, the Cowboys are back in control.
Dallas (9-5) will win the NFC East and Jerry Jones will get to host at least one playoff game in his new stadium by following this difficult victory with wins at Washington and at home against Philadelphia.
- Their reputation as December choke artists could be erased.
Despite opening the month with back-to-back losses, the Cowboys can have a winning record in December/January for the first time since 1996 by winning their final two games.
Since winning out also would mean getting into the playoffs, that would give them a chance at their first playoff victory since '96.
- Their coach can hold off on hiring a moving van.
Wade Phillips is far from guaranteed of remaining the head coach in 2010, but his job is more secure, at least for one week.
Of course, if the Cowboys win the division and a playoff game, Jones would be a lot more likely to pick up the option for next year.
Whew - all that from just one game.
And all of it coming with the catch that they must keep winning to make this victory more than a one-night stand.
``We've got to come into the next game ready and focused,'' safety Ken Hamlin said. ``It's a big win, but it won't mean nothing if we lose the next one.''
The Cowboys had never lost three in a row under Phillips. Yet between their woes and the dominance of the Saints, few people outside the Dallas locker room gave them much of a chance.
Tony Dungy sure didn't, and said so on national television. Players saw a tape of that this week and used it to fuel the ol' us-against-the-world attitude.
``When somebody says you can't do anything and counts you out before you even play, that sort of adds to the fire,'' linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. ``Once we watched that tape and went to bed that night, when we got here all the guys were quiet. We were ready to play. We were really focused, especially in this type of atmosphere.''
Two years ago, the Giants played unbeaten New England in late December. They didn't win, but they got enough confidence from their performance to steam through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl, where they knocked off the Patriots.
This game could be the same kind of springboard for Dallas.
``This was another turning point, a defining moment in our season,'' linebacker Bradie James said. ``Now we've got to just continue to roll. They can afford to lose. We can't. We have to win for us to get to where we want to be.''
The Cowboys controlled this game from the start.
The defense kept New Orleans' high-powered offense from getting a first down on its first two drives, and the offense turned around and scored touchdowns on its first two. Dallas hadn't scored a touchdown on its opening drive in more than a year.
The Saints managed just a field goal through three quarters, but then rallied in the fourth quarter. Romo and the offense couldn't get a victory-sealing touchdown, but they got close enough for Nick Folk to try for a clinching field goal.
As shaky as he's been, this kick was little more than the distance of an extra point. Yet he banged it into the right upright, putting his employment status even more in doubt. This was the sixth straight game he's missed a field goal. He's in a 4-for-11 rut and has missed more field goal attempts than anyone in the NFL.
But the Cowboys overcame it thanks to the defense, especially Ware.
Just six days after he was in the hospital with a sprained neck, Ware sacked Drew Brees and forced him to fumble in the final seconds of what could've been a game-tying drive.
Dallas held New Orleans to its fewest points of the season, a week after doing the same to San Diego. Romo had his fourth straight game without a turnover, and his fourth straight with a quarterback rating over 100.
``I said all along this team has a lot of heart and a lot of character and a lot of leaders,'' Phillips said. ``Guys banded together and believed in each other. That's what it takes to win.''