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3 things we learned about the Cowboys

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NEW ORLEANS — According to local lore, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is built over an old voodoo pit, and for the first 60 minutes against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, it looked as though the New Orleans Saints were sticking pins all over their bodies.

When Saints kicker Zach Hocker clanged what would have been a game-winning 30-yard field goal off the left upright with 12 seconds left in regulation — a glorified extra point — the Saints and Cowboys headed to overtime tied at 20.

However, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had the perfect antidote to Hocker’s curse.

On the second play of overtime, Brees calmly connected with running back C.J. Spiller on a wheel route down the right sideline, and Spiller used his power to shake off a diving tackle attempt by safety Barry Church and his speed to race 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown and a 26-20 overtime victory.

New Orleans (1-3) snapped its three-game losing streak, while Dallas (2-2) fell for the second week in a row.

The touchdown pass just 13 seconds into overtime — Brees’ second of the game — gave the veteran 400 touchdown passes for his career. Spiller rushed over to Brees after the score and handed him the ball.

“I told him, ‘Brother, you deserve it,'” Spiller said. “He’s probably the best teammate I’ve ever played with — just his preparation. He deserves it.”

Saints coach Sean Payton attributed the winning play to Brees’ arm and craftiness. After running back Khiry Robinson dropped a first-down pass on the Saints’ 20-yard line, Brees noticed that the Cowboys’ defense was slow to line up on second down.

“I believe they struggled getting aligned, and Drew was smart enough to snap the ball,” Payton said. “It was a vertical route, a play we had run earlier. The tackle C.J. broke on the safety was huge. A great play.”

What we learned about the Cowboys

1. Brandon Weeden lost his 10th consecutive start, but this defeat can’t be placed entirely in the quarterback’s lap. Weeden was overly cautious at times, taking the underneath pass and completing 16 of 26 for 246 yards and a touchdown. However, when the Cowboy needed him to step up late in the fourth quarter, he took them 91 yards in eight plays, making several tight throws to five different receivers. The 17-yard, fourth-down touchdown throw to wide receiver Terrance Williams, which tied the game 20-20, was a perfect strike in the right corner of the end zone.

2. Don’t expect running back Joseph Randle to try extending the ball over the goal line again in an attempt to score. Randle caught a big break when the TV review showed that the ball in his right hand barely broke the plane of the goal line before it was swiped out of his hand by Saints linebacker Stephone Anthony. The Saints recovered the ball, but the officials rules that Randle had scored the Cowboys’ first TD. “That is something we’ve discussed with him and our other running backs about how we want to handle that situation,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s a dangerous play when you extend the ball like that. It worked out for us tonight, but we don’t want to do that in that situation.”

3. Already playing without quarterback Tony Romo (broken collarbone) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (broken foot), the Cowboys are bracing for bad news about star linebacker Sean Lee, the team’s leading tackler who left in the first half with a head injury. “Well, next guy up,” Garrett said. “That is the philosophy we have. Our guys embrace it.”

Etc.

–RB Lance Dunbar injured a knee returning the second-half kickoff. Dunbar had three carries for 54 yards, including a 45-yard run on Dallas’ first possession. The Cowboys might miss his presence if he is sidelined.

–QB Brandon Weeden mostly led a dink-and-dunk attack, but he did exploit the man-to-man coverage of CB Brandon Browner with a 67-yard bomb to WR Brice Butler. On the Cowboys’ game-tying drive at the end of regulation, Weeden also hit TE Jason Witten for 28 yards and WR Terrance Williams for 24. He finished 16-for-26 for 246 yards with one touchdown pass and no interceptions, but he lost his 10th consecutive start.

–LB Anthony Hitchens led the Cowboys with 11 total tackles, including a half-sack and one quarterback hurry. The second-year man helped fill the void created by LB Sean Lee’s absence. “Anthony Hitchens does a good job stepping into that role and leading the defense,” coach Jason Garrett said. “For a younger player, he really plays like a veteran player. I thought he handled that well.”


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