By Dwain Price
Not even dealing with several bouts of positive COVID-19 tests could derail the Dallas Cowboys from reaching their appointed goal Thursday night at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
With head coach Mike McCarthy back in Dallas after testing positive for the coronavirus – at least nine coaches and players missed the game due to the health and safety protocols — the Cowboys used a four-interception night as the impetus to defeat the New Orleans Saints, 27-17. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Cowboys and increased their NFC East-leading record to 8-4.
The Washington Football Team is in second place in the NFC East with a 5-6 record, and the Cowboys next game is at Washington on Dec. 12.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was the Cowboys’ interim head coach against the Saints. While his competitive spirit was pivotal in keeping the Cowboys focused, so too were the team’s four interceptions, which were the first four-interception game for the Cowboys since Dec. 10, 2010 at Indianapolis.
“One thing you guys have heard me say before is I love doing hard things with a group of people, and this was one of those moments, and we’ve got great people to get the job done,” Quinn said. “We wanted to make sure Mike and all the guys who missed this game, and let them know we got their back.
“Honestly, it was the only thing I was nervous about. I didn’t want to let them down.”
In snapping their five-game losing streaks of games played on a Thursday night, the Cowboys saw defensive end Carlos Watkins seal the victory with an interception he returned for a 28-yard touchdown that put Dallas ahead,27-10, with 2:52 remaining in the game.
Jayron Kearse also picked off a pass that stymied one Saints drive at the 5-yard line and led to a 34-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal which put the Cowboys up, 13-7, at intermission. Damontae Kazee recorded an interception,and so did Trevon Diggs, who picked off his ninth pass of the season and now only trails Everson Walls (11 in 1981) and Mel Renfro (10 in 1969) for the most interceptions in a single season by a Cowboys player.
The four takeaways were crucial for the Cowboys, who only produced a total of five takeaways in the previous five games.
“The adversity we’ve had, we’ve faced, coming off the last two weeks and then coming in this week and just being hit with the Covid,losing the head coach this week, so many people stepped up,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “Credit to Dan Quinn, the coordinators, all the leaders on this team of doing what was necessary to be ready for this game and through all the ups and downs in this game and playing complimentary football.”
Prescott completed 26-of-40 passes for 238 yards and a one spectacular one-yard toe-tapping touchdown to Michael Gallup in the right corner of the end zone that gave the Cowboys a 7-0 lead with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
That six-play, 80-yard drive included a 41-yard pass to Amari Cooper on third down, and a 33-yard swing pass to CeeDee Lamb which carried to the one-yard line before Gallup manufactured his incredible TD reception.
“Those three made huge plays,” Prescott said. “Obviously,Amari getting us going on third down, CeeDee getting the ball in his hands and made a guy miss and go on and get some more yards And then MG with a great catch and putting two feet down.
“Those are three talented guys and I’ve got to do a better job of continuing to get them involved. When those three get involved in a drive –in the same drive like that — that’s what happens.”
Also for the Cowboys, Tony Pollard zipped 58 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown that lifted Dallas ahead, 20-10, with 3:55 to go in the third quarter. That was the first rush for over 50 yards by a member of the Cowboys since Alfred Morris darted 70 yards against the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 1, 2017.
“It was just a cool win, a total team win,” Quinn said. “We talked about playing complimentary ball, so getting the ball out a few times, man that was big. To have a four-interception night, that was huge.
“This is a tough place to play and this is a tough team. So to have that kind of resiliency (Thursday) I thought it was cool.”
What Quinn also thought was cool was the sack by rookie linebacker Micah Parsons that went for 13 yards and knocked the Saints out of field goal range. It was the fifth straight game Parsons has recorded at least one sack, and the last rookie in the NFL to have a sack in five consecutive games was Joey Bosa in 2016.
Parsons now has 10 sacks this season, tying him with Bradley Chubb (2018) for fourth place for the most sacks after the first 12 games of a player’s NFL career.
“When we weren’t doing our job on offense, the defense was creating turnovers,” Prescott said. “It’s tough to come in a place like this and win,and we were able to do that.”
The Cowboys pressured Saints quarterback Taysom Hill 18 times on dropbacks. That ties for the second-most by a Saints quarterback in the last10 seasons.
In addition, Hill was just 1-of-12 for 12 yards while under pressure, which made Quinn a happy camper.
“It was fun because it was that kind of emotional game,” Quinn said. “There were big plays – our offense had a few, and it was exciting to see that. And defensively, obviously getting the takeaways was good.”
McCarthy is expected back at practice next week and back on the sidelines for the game against Washington, and Quinn will be back in his customary spot calling defensive plays from the booth upstairs on game days. At least, that’s the plan.
“I’m hopeful that you guys won’t see me again,” Quinn said. “I’ll be back up on the top hopefully by the next game and Mike will make all the progress that we need to have him back.
“It was certainly an all-day fight, and we knew it was going to be. Coming down here, I love the mindset of the guys. Mike and all the coaches were with us all the way in the preparations and the meetings.”