Cowboys, Officials, & Murphy
Saints take tough L in Dallas, but still battling for top playoff seed
The box score will show that Dallas beat New Orleans, snapping the Saints 10-game win streak on Thursday night, but in reality the Saints had to square off against the Cowboys, their own excellence, the schedule, the officials and Murphy. It’s hard to get a win in the NFL going against so much.
The Cowboys entered the game at 6-5, winners of three straight, fighting for their playoff lives. For Dallas, the nationally-televised primetime game was an opportunity for them to make a statement against the best team in the league. The Saints, who seemed to destroy everyone in their path and emerged as the experts pick to be odds on favorites to go to and win the Super Bowl, had a huge target on their backs. Their outspoken owner, Jerry Jones, said his team needed to play the game like it was their Super Bowl. They were hyped, ready, and played well enough to get the W.
Leading up to the game, everything out of New Orleans looked like the Saints were set to go again, but early in the first quarter the team looked a bit sluggish. One has to wonder if playing their third game in 11 days took its toll.
The officiating in the game was also a bit suspect. While both teams had to deal with how the game was called, the Saints were hampered by missed calls, including the awarding of a Dallas first down in the fourth quarter when Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley’s knee went down with the ball at least a yard short of the marker and a helmet-to-helmet hit on Alvin Kamara that should have been called a penalty and would have extended a Saints drive when the game’s momentum appeared to have swung to New Orleans.
Murphy, of course, refers to Murphy's law, the popular adage that states that “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.”
Ol’ Murph was present from the get go. The offense was uncharacteristically out of form. Quarterback Drew Brees opened the game missing his first four pass attempts for the first time in his 18-year career. After defensive end Cam Jordan was able to sack Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, force a fumble and recover it late in the fourth, it appeared the stage was set for Brees to perform his typical late-game heroics. Surely he would take the Saints up the field and steal the win away in dramatic fashion. Instead, in the face of a pass rush that was tenacious all night, he tried to force a pass to Alvin Kamara only to have it intercepted with 2:08 left in the game. Head Coach Sean Payton, who has shown his penchant for jumping on the opposition and trying to overwhelm them early, used his two challenges in the first half in an attempt to help his offense pick up speed. That helped the Cowboys and hurt the Saints down the stretch, especially when plays like Beasley’s couldn’t be reviewed and ruled correctly.
“I felt like we didn't really find a rhythm for pretty much the whole game,” said Brees, who finished the game with 18 completions on 28 attempts for 127 yards – his second fewest when he played a full game in 13 years with the Saints – one touchdown and an interception, said after the game.
My initial reaction to this game is to say it was a hiccup. Playing in the NFL is difficult and it’s nearly impossible to win them all. That’s why the there’s only been one team to post an undefeated record in the league’s modern history – the 1972 Miami Dolphins. And they did it 46 years ago, in a league that’s much different than today.
Take a deep breath, Saints fans. But there is a small bit of concern that maybe the team has grown too confident, too assured in their belief in themselves. The Saints didn’t play at their best last week against Atlanta, but they won. That didn’t happen this week. I’m trying to shush any notion that the team peaked too early in the season. Hopefully this will be a wakeup call that proves they need to be focused and prepared for the final quarter of the season.
At 10-2 the Saints are a half-game behind the Los Angeles Rams for the top seeding and home field advantage in the NFC playoff race. With four games left for the Saints and five, including this Sunday’s, for the Rams, a lot can still happen. The Saints will be on the road against division opponents in the next two weeks, first against Tampa Bay then Carolina. They close the season at home against Pittsburgh and Carolina.
Keep your heads up.
Remember, in 2009 the team lost the last three games of the regular season before they went on a tear in the playoffs and won the Super Bowl.
The schedule may now work in the Saints favor. The team has nine days to recuperate, refocus, and prepare before they play the Buccaneers.
Don’t cancel your plans for a mid-winter trip to Atlanta, based on the Saints’ performance on Thursday. There’s still a lot to play for, and there is ample opportunity for the Black & Gold to go to the Super Bowl.