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Cowboys Lasso Saints, 24-17, in Superdome

    <span>New Orleans – The New Orleans Saints' 13-game winning streak came to an end this evening at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, who defeated the Saints 24-17. The Saints, who trailed 24-3 after three quarters of play, rallied to score 14 unanswered points, and had the football in their possession late in the game and near midfield, but a relentless Cowboys pass rush extinguished the Saints' chances when DE DeMarcus Ware sacked and stripped Drew Brees of the football with :10 left in the game.   

Saints RB Mike Bell and WR Lance Moore had scored back-to-back touchdowns to bring the Saints to within a touchdown of the Cowboys, 24-17, in the fourth quarter, and the Saints received a huge break when Dallas place kicker Nick Folk missed a chip-shot 24-yard field goal with just over two minutes left in the game that gave the Saints, who didn't have any timeouts remaining, new life and an opportunity to try to tie the game.

But it was not meant to be, as the Cowboys pressured the Brees and, eventually, forced him into being sacked and stripped of the football, and ended the Saints' comeback bid.

"First, let me credit the Cowboys, they came in here and played a very good game and that's a credit to them," said Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. "We have a number of things that we didn't do a good enough job of doing, starting with third downs on both offense and defense. That was a problem for us."

The Cowboys were able to convert eight-of-15 third downs on the night, while limiting the Saints to an uncharacteristic one-of-seven on third downs. Dallas also out-gained the Saints, 439 yards to 336 yards and held the football for 36:26 in time of possession compared to the Saints' 23:34.

One of the lone bright spots for the Saints on the evening was a milestone that QB Drew Brees achieved on a seven-yard completion to WR Lance Moore, and in the process, became the Saints' all-time touchdown passing leader (121), breaking a tie with Aaron Brooks. Despite the Saints' first loss of the night, the NFC South champion Saints (13-1) still remain in the top spot for home field advantage in the playoffs. They are a game in front of the Minnesota Vikings (11-2), who play on Sunday night contest in Carolina against the Panthers. The Saints, with victories in their final two games of the season, would clinch home field advantage through the playoffs regardless of what the Vikings do.

"Anytime you lose a game something like that sort of goes out the window," Brees said after the game. "It's always disappointing to lose, but Dallas did a good job and we weren't able to make the plays that we needed to make to be able to win the game. I tip to my hat to them on a very well played game."

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was sharp all night, and despite being sacked three times by the Saints' defense, completed 22-of-34 passes for 312 yards and one touchdown and did not throw an interception. WR Miles Austin, with eight receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown (49 yards), was his favorite target on the night, followed by TE Jason Witten, who added five grabs for 44 yards. Dallas' running back duo of Marion Barber (17-62) and Felix Jones (14-58) helped the Cowboys rush for a 145 yards on 36 carries, compared to the Saints' 65 yards rushing on the night on only 13 carries. Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 29-of-45 passes for 298 yards with a touchdown and an interception, with TE David Thomas leading the way for the Saints with eight receptions for 77 yards, followed by QR Marques Colston (5-86), RB Pierre Thomas (5-50) and WR Robert Meachem (5-43). Defensively LB Jonathan Vilma racked up a team-high 14 tackles for the Saints, with DE Will Smith adding two sacks for this team-high 12 sacks this season.

The Cowboys opened the scoring on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Mike Austin less than four minutes into the game, and built on their lead with a three-yard touchdown run by RB Marion Barber with 5:15 left in the first quarter, thus jumping out to a 14-0 lead over the undefeated Saints. The Saints got on the scoreboard with a long scoring drive that ended with a 34-yard field goal by K Garrett Hartley midway through the second quarter that made the score 14-3. The Cowboys turned a late turnover deep in Saints' territory into a 44-yard field goal that increased their lead to 17-3 at halftime. Barber made the score 24-3, ending a 13-play drive. Mike Bell ended a nine play, 80 yard drive early in the fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown run that brought the Saints to within two touchdowns of the Cowboys, 24-10.

The Cowboys out-gained the Saints, 240 yards to 162 yards, in the first half and held a four-minute advantage in time of possession. The Cowboys were perfectly balanced in the run to pass ratio in the first half, with 18 of each variety.

The Saints began the initial drive of the game at their own 20 after a Dallas touchback. Drew Brees hit Reggie Bush for a one-yard gain on first down and David Thomas for a two-yard gain on second down and a six-yard gain on third down, which was a yard shy of the first down. Thomas Morstead hammered a 57-yard punt that was returned for only seven yards by Patrick Crayton.

Dallas started at their own 21 and started with a nine-yard gain by Marion Barber and an 11-yard gain by Felix Jones. LB Jonathan Vilma blanketed Jason Witten on a first down pass attempt to force and incompletion, but the Cowboys came back with a 10-yard completion to Jones for a first down. On the next play Tony Romo dropped back and fired a 49-yard touchdown pass down the Saints' sideline to WR Miles Austin that gave the Cowboys a 7-0 lead after Nick Folk's extra point.

The Saints, starting at their own 29, were once again stopped by the Cowboys' defense on three downs and forced to punt, with Morstead hitting a 52-yard effort that was fielded by Crayton and returned 28 yards to the Dallas 40. Saints DE Will Smith stopped Barber after a four yard gain on first down at the Dallas 44, while Vilma and S Roman Harper dropped Barber after a one-yard gain on second down. Romo converted the third down with a short pass down the seam to WR Roy Williams, who turned into a 14-yard gain. On the next play Romo throw a smoke screen to Austin, who eluded a tackler and picked up 15 more yards. Barber then found a crease and picked up four yards to the Saints' 11. On the next play Romo threw a quick out to Austin that picked up four yards to the Saints' 7 and brought up a third-and-short two. RB Tashard Choice, running out of the wildcat formation, picked up four yards to the Saints' three on the third down and Barber finished the drive with a three-yard plunge behind left guard that gave the Cowboys a 14-0 lead after Folk's extra point.

The Saints once again started a drive at their own 20 and received a boost when Bush burst through a hole in the middle of the Saints offensive line and bolted 29-yards for a first down to the Saints' 49. RB Mike Bell was stopped at the line of scrimmage on the ensuing first down and on the next play DE Anthony Spencer broke free to drop Brees for a 10-yard sack from the quarterback's blindside. Brees's third down pass deep downfield intended for Devery Henderson was incomplete, as a chorus of calls cascaded down from Superdome fans looking for a pass interference call on a Cowboys defender. Morstead hit a 53-yard punt that was downed at the Dallas eight.

After a one-yard gain by Jones, Romo sat in the pocket and drilled a pass over the middle to TE Jason Witten for a play that picked up 21 yards. S Roman Harper very nearly intercepted Romo on the next play after Romo scrambled out of the picket after being flushed out by DT DeMario Pressley. LB Scott Shanle and LB Scott Fujita stopped Jones after a two-yard gain. Romo was able to convert the third-and-long with an 11-yard pass over the middle to a sliding Crayton. The Cowboys kept their foot on the gas pedal with a quick bootleg pass out into the right flat to Witten that picked up seven yards to the Saints' 36. Vilma stopped Jones for a loss of one on the next play to the Saints' 37, and CB Tracy Porter broke up a pass intended for Williams on third down. The Cowboys broke the fourth-down huddle with their offense on the field, but Romo quickly called a timeout soon after getting to the line of scrimmage. Following the second timeout of the first half by the Cowboys, the Dallas offense returned to the field facing a fourth-and-four. Romo lofted a pass down the sideline for Williams that was incomplete, but CB Courtney Roby/Mike McKenzie.aspx">Mike McKenzie was flagged for an illegal contract penalty and the Cowboys were awarded five yards and a first down. DE Will Smith then sacked Romo for a six-yard loss on the next play, Smith's 11th sack of the season, and Barber then picked up four of the yards on a draw on second down. Vilma then sacked Romo on third down when the quarterback stepped up in the pocket, dropping the Cowboys signal-caller for a four- yard loss. The Cowboys elected to call on punter Mat McBriar on fourth-down, with the Australian hitting at 29-yard effort that was fair caught by Bush at the Saints' 9.

Brees hit David Thomas for a nine-yard gain on first down, which was followed up by a five-yard run by Pierre Thomas. Cowboys DT Jay Ratliff was flagged for an offsides call on first down, which gave the Saints five yards. On the next play Brees' pass to Colston didn't connect, but Brees hit David Thomas for a gain of six yards and a first down on the next play. Pierre Thomas then added four yards on an inside carry, and Brees came back with a seven-yard pass to Robert Meachem for another Saints first down at the New Orleans 45. Pierre Thomas then picked up three more yards on an inside run, with C Jonathan Goodwin requiring assistance in getting off the field following the play, and being replaced by backup Nick Leckey. Brees came right back and found Colston making an out-cut and racing 35 yards to the Dallas 17 before being knocked out of bounds. Brees then looked for Colston in the end zone, but the tall receiver got tangled up with CB Terence Newman and the pass fell incomplete. Thomas carried for a carry of one-yard on second down and Brees couldn't connect on a third down pass intended for Thomas, thus bringing K Garrett Hartley in to try a 34-yard field goal, which he converted with 7:23 left on the clock in the second quarter.

Dallas started at their own 17 but was quickly flagged for a holding call that pushed the visiting team back 10 yards. Jones, though, took a delayed handoff and scampered 17 yards to the 25. Vilma then stopped Jones after a short gain on second down, and on a third-and-one from the 26 Barber took a handoff into the middle of the offensive line for a gain of two yards and a first down. Romo was sacked by Smith for a loss of eight-yards on second down, his fourth multiple sack game of the season and the 12th sack of the season for the sixth-year pro. The Saints called their first timeout of the first half with 4:48 left in the first half. Romo managed to scramble for a gain of ten yards on second down, but Romo's third down intended for Austin was incomplete and McBriar was called upon to punt. McBriar hit a 54-yard effort, and the Saints were flagged for illegal block in the back penalty and were forced to start the drive at their own 10.

Brees hit Colston over the middle for a 12-yard gain. On the next play a host of blitzing Cowboys flushed Brees out of the pocket and was nearly intercepted after an errant thrown down the middle intended for Devery Henderson but fell incomplete. Meachem was then flagged for a false start penalty. Brees then hit Bush for a 16-yard gain over the middle of the field, but Bush struggled to get out of bounds as he favored his left leg. Brees came right back and hit David Thomas for a gain of 11 yards, then found Meachem over the middle of the field for a gain of 15 yards and a first down at the Dallas 46 as the clock stopped at the two-minute warning. Brees then tried to go deep down the sideline to Henderson, but was intercepted by Mike Jenkins at the Dallas four-yard line.

Barber started the Dallas drive with a seven-yard gain and managed to pick up a first down with a three-yard run to the 14. Romo's pass intended for Witten was incomplete, and Barber tried the middle of the line for a gain of six yards, with the Saints calling their third (and final) timeout of the half with 1:33 left in the half. Romo's third down pass intended for Austin was low and off the mark, as Porter had tight coverage.

McBriar hit a 49-yard punt that was fielded by Lance Moore, who was dropped by Orlando Scandrick at the spot he caught the punt. G Jahri Evans was flagged for a holding call on first down and the Saints were pushed back ten yards. Brees then hit Meachem for a gain of seven yards on first down. Brees then was sacked and stripped of the ball by DeMarcus Ware at the 24, with DE Anthony Spencer recovering the loose ball with :41 left in the half. Romo's pass down the sideline was incomplete, but the Cowboys came back with a screen pass to Barber on second down that picked up 11 yards and a first down. Romo then hit Austin for a gain of two yards and called their last timeout with :17 left and with the football resting on the Saints' 11. Romo's pass intended for Austin on second down was incomplete, and on third-and-seven from the 11 with :12 left in the half T Flozell Adams was flagged for a personal foul, face masking call which pushed the Cowboys back 15 yards to the 26. K Nick Folk, though, came on and hit a 44-yard field goal with :04 left in the half to push the Cowboys' lead to 17-3.

Dallas, following a 31-yard kickoff return by Jones, started at their own 26 and were victimized by a dropped pass by Austin on first down. Jones managed to pick up five yards on an off tackle run on second down. Romo then rolled to his right and hit Austin for a gain of 13 yards before being stopped by CB Courtney Roby/Mike McKenzie.aspx">Mike McKenzie. Jones then tried the right side of the Dallas line for a gain of nine yards, and Barber converted the following play into a first down with a four yard run. Romo then found WR Kevin Ogletree down the sideline for a gain of 17 yards to the Saints' 26. Jones then added two more on a short run and Romo came back and hit TE John Phillips for nine yards to the 17. Barber then found five yards on first down and Romo and Witten connected for a four-yard gain on second down. Barber converted the third-and-short with a four-yard run up the middle to the Saints' 2. A first down pass intended for Austin in the back of the end zone was broken up when Porter shoved the leaping receiver out of bounds. Barber, though, made the score 23-3 when he stuttered stepped off the left side of the Cowboys' offensive line for a touchdown run, and Folk ended the 13-play drive with an extra point to make the score 24-3 with 8:00 left in the third quarter.

Kickoff return man Courtney Roby gave the Saints a spark with a 67-yard kickoff return to the Dallas 36 following the Dallas kickoff. Brees nearly connected with Henderson in the end zone on first down, but the receiver couldn't hang onto the pass as he came back to make a play on the offering. Bell had a short gain on a second down carry, but the Cowboys were flagged for an illegal hand to the face penalty on third down that gave the Saints a first down. Spencer sacked Brees on first down for a loss of eight yards and Brees had to throw a ball away on second down and a third down pass intended for Henderson along the sideline was incomplete and Morstead was called in but his punt, which landed near the Dallas five yard line, bounced into the end zone for a touchback.

The Cowboys Doug Free was flagged for a holding call on the Cowboys' first play, but Romo hit Phillips for a gain of eight yards. The quarterback then found Austin on a crossing route for a gain of 13 yards and a first down to the Dallas 31. Jones tried a cutback run on first down but was stuffed for a short gain. Romo and Witten hooked up for the fourth time on second down for a gain of four yards, and the Saints were victimized by a Romo scramble of seven yards on third down that was good for a first down. Romo's pass intended for Witten on the next play was low and incomplete on first down, and S Roman Harper came up to spin Barber down for a one-yard loss on second down. Romo's fourth down pass intended for Witten was caught for a gain of nine yards, but short of the first down sticks and the Cowboys were forced to punt, with McBriar's effort sailing into the end zone for a touchback.

Brees started the drive with a nine-yard completion to Henderson, and then came back with an 11-yard completion to Meachem on the final play of the third quarter. Brees continued to work underneath with 13-yard completion to TE David Thomas. The Saints' signal-caller tried the middle of the field for a long gain to Thomas on the next play but the pass was broken up by LB Bobby Carpenter. Brees then found Colston for a gain of 15 yards and a first down, and then came back with a quick check-down pass to Pierre Thomas for a gain of six yards. Brees and David Thomas then connected on a crossing route for a gain of 18 yards to the Dallas eight yard-line, and Bell took a handoff for seven yards on first down to the one. On the next play Bell pushed his way in off the left side of the offense for the Saints' first touchdown of the night, which following Hartley's extra point, made the score 24-10 in the Cowboys' favor.

Felix Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the Dallas 40. Romo threw a quick out to Ogletree on first down for a gain of six yards on first down, but Dallas was flagged for too many men in the huddle and were docked five yards. Jones managed to pick up the five yards back with a Jones toss that he cut back into the middle of the field. The Saints called timeout before the third-and-four from the 46 and the Cowboys' third down pass from Romo to Williams fell incomplete. McBriar hit a punt off the side of his foot for only 24 yards and the Saints took possession of the ball at their own 30 with 11:23 left in the contest.

Brees started he drive with a quick screen pass to Pierre Thomas, who picked up 29 yards with a spinning run to the Dallas 41. Brees then bought time in the pocket and found a wide-open David Thomas over the middle of the field for a gain of 12 yards. Meachem hauled in a short pass from Brees that picked up three yards to the Dallas 26 and Brees scrambled to the 17 after heavy pressure flushed him out of the pocket. A first down pass intended for Henderson was defended by CB Terence Newman, but Brees came right back and zipped a pass into the hands of Colston for a gain of 10 yards and a first down to the seven. Brees then connected with Lance Moore on a quick screen that the fleet-footed receiver turned into a touchdown that made the score 24-17 after Hartley's extra point.

Romo picked up five yards after a scramble on first down before being nailed by Fujita, and Harper lead a charge into the Cowboys' secondary and dropped Jones for a loss of two yards. Romo called a timeout as the play clock ticked down to one on a third-and-seven from 23 with 6:26 left in the game. Austin got free cutting across the middle for a gain of 32 yards and a first down after Romo drilled the speedster after a short completion. Romo then bought time with a scramble and connected with Phillips for a gain of 23 yards to the Saints' 20. Romo then fired out into the flat for WR San Hurd for a gain of six yards and Barber converted the yards into a first down with a five-yard run. Smith tackled Barber for a one-yard loss on the next play and the Saints called their third and final timeout. Jones then picked up four yards to the seven on second down, and the Cowboys continued to run the ball with Barber with a short run up the middle that was stopped short of the first down sticks by the Saints' defense. K Nick Folk came on to attempt a 24-yard field goal, but his attempt clanked off of the right upright and bounced back onto the field.

The Saints' took over at their own 20 with 2:16 left in the game and trailing 24-17. A first down pass was incomplete and a second down pass was batted back to Brees who caught the ball and tried to pick up yardage but was stopped for a four-yard loss. The clock hit the two-minute warning with the Saints facing a third-and-13. Brees was pressured and threw to Thomas for a gain of three yards on third down and on fourth-and-ten he hung in the pocket and hit Colston, who made a one-handed grab, over the middle for a gain of 14 yards. Brees then passed to Thomas for a gain of five yards and the clock stopped with :38 left in the game. Thomas then picked up a first down and got out of bounds with :32 left and with the ball on the Saints' 45. A deep pass intended for Meachem was incomplete as Newman had tight coverage, but Brees came back and hit Henderson for a 13 yard gain and Henderson got out of bounds to stop the clock with :18 left. Brees was tackled as he was throwing the ball, which was ruled an incompletion by the officials on the field. Scandrick picked up the ball and started to return it towards the Saints' goal line, but flung the football in frustration after the whistle blew. The officials elected to review the play on instant replay and the ruling on the field, an incomplete pass, were confirmed. The Saints, with the ball on the Dallas 42, suffered their third and final turnover of the night when Ware stripped Brees of the ball, which was recovered by Ratliff at the Dallas 48 and the Cowboys only had to take a knee to end the game and the Saints' 13 game winning streak.

Notes: The Saints had a moment of silence before the game for Belle Chasse native Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who passed away earlier this week after an accident in Charlotte.

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