A game-ending interception late in the final stanza
To say that we expected a well-played game between two teams in the Saints and Cowboys who had combined for 13 consecutive wins heading into Thursday night would be an understatement.
While we did see a ton of drama unfold in Big D, the game itself was not well played. Dallas fumbled the ball three times — losing two in the process. Drew Brees struggled to do anything of substance against a swarming Cowboys defense. That included pretty much a game-ending interception late in the final stanza.
In the end, Dallas came out on top by the score of 13-10 in a huge win for Jason Garrett’s squad.
Here are our winners and losers from Thursday Night Football in Week 13.
Winner: Byron Jones continues breakout season
Jones didn’t necessarily shadow Michael Thomas during Thursday night’s win over the Saints. But he played a large role on the star receiver catching just 5-of-8 targets for 40 yards. It’s in this that the Cowboys were able to do something no team has done this season — stop Thomas from going off. After all, the third-year receiver entered this week’s action having caught 89 percent of his targets on the season.
For fans in Dallas, Jones’ performance is not surprising. He’s been among the best cornerbacks in the NFL this season. Opposing quarterbacks posted a 67.4 passer rating when targeting him through 12 weeks. Drew Brees found out first hand in Big D just how good this former first-round pick is.
Loser: Randy Gregory costs Cowboys big time
Gregory had played well in the first half of Thursday’s game, recording a quarterback hit and getting into the Saints’ backfield multiple times. Unfortunately, it was one dumb mistake late in the third quarter that cost Dallas big time.
With his Cowboys up 13-3 and the Saints set to punt, Gregory was called for a roughing the punter penalty. It was as obvious as they come. And three plays later, the Saints connected on a 30-yard touchdown to pull the game to within 13-10. Earlier in the quarter, Gregory was also called for a 15-yard face mask penalty. These are the types of mistakes that will get you jettisoned from a roster quicker kneeling for the anthem.
Winner: Demarcus Lawrence comes up huge
With New Orleans down 10-0 in the second quarter and deciding to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Cowboys’ one, this All-Pro performer more than earned his bucks. Known more as a pass rusher, Lawrence stuffed stud Saints running back Alvin Kamara before the goal line — ending the New Orleans possession without a point being scored. Dallas would go on to drive nearly the length of the field to take a 13-0 lead into the half.
Taking on a quarterback in Drew Brees that has been sacked only 10 times this season, Lawrence didn’t make a huge impact from a pass-rush perspective. But he saved seven points in stuffing Kamara. That’s no small accomplishment.
Loser: Drew Brees not sharp for first time all season
Everything was seemingly set up for Brees to have one of his patented prime-time performances. He entered Thursday’s action having put up 29 touchdowns compared to two interceptions on the season. It had Mr. Brees on a record-setting pace.
Unfortunately, this game didn’t start or end well for the future Hall of Famer. For the first time in his career, Brees missed on his first four pass attempts to start a game. Then, with his Saints looking to tie or win late in the fourth quarter, Brees threw just his third pick of the season. It’s not too often we can say Brees is one of the primary reasons his Saints lost. But that was pretty evident Thursday night in Dallas.
Winner: Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup do their thing
We’re absolutely loving what Cooper has done since joining the Cowboys. Not only did he enter Thursday night’s game coming off a brilliant performance against Washington, the former Raiders first-round pick has opened things up big time for both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
This didn’t change on Thursday. Cooper himself caught all eight of the passes thrown in his direction for 75 yards. It was yet another solid performance. He also helped rookie receiver Michael Gallup perform at a high level with New Orleans shading a ton of its coverage in Cooper’s direction. This stud receiver has been a major difference-maker in Dallas.
Loser: Michael Thomas comes up small
Thomas has been absolutely absurd thus far this season, catching 86-of-97 targets for 1,080 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games. We knew full well that Byron Jones going up against Thomas would make it hard on the receiver. And overall, the Cowboys’ defense has played great this season.
When all was said and done, Thomas caught just 5-of-8 targets for 40 yards in one of the worst performances of his three-year career. We’re not sure if this was more about Jones and Co. But Thomas didn’t do what was necessary to help the Saints come out on top.
Winner: Ezekiel Elliott continues strong recent play
Elliott has been something else since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper in a trade, recording 643 total yards in four games during that span. This included a 143-yard outburst in a win over Washington on Thanksgiving. With Dallas’ offense still clicking at home against the Saints Thursday night, Elliott was back up to his old tricks.
The running back went for 76 yards on the ground and added six receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown through the air. Dallas also relied on him a great deal to milk the clock during a scoring drive late in the fourth quarter to pretty much put this one away. Elliott continues to come up absolutely huge.
Loser: Cowboys offensive line struggles in pass protection
Some of the blame has to go to Dak Prescott for holding on to the ball too long. But the Cowboys’ offensive line continues to struggle in pass protection. Sans injured All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, this unit allowed seven quarterback hits and seven sacks in Dallas’ 13-10 win.
Prescott has now been sacked 45 times in 12 games. That must be rectified moving forward if the Cowboys’ playoff aspirations are to come to fruition. Simply put, he’s a turnover waiting to happen when under pressure.
Winner: Dak Prescott is a changed man
As we mentioned above, Prescott might have taken too many sacks in this one. He also missed a wide receiver on what would have been a long touchdown to give Dallas a two-score lead in the fourth quarter. Even then, the embattled quarterback continued to play great all-around football.
Prescott vastly outplayed his counterpart, Drew Brees. The third-year quarterback completed 24-of-28 passes for 248 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions in the 13-10 Cowboys win. He’s really been a changed man during Dallas’ four-game winning streak, and it could help catapult this team to the NFC East title.
Loser: Eli Apple makes a mockery of the cornerback position
Dallas made sure to target this former division rival early and often Thursday night. Having played pretty well since being traded from the Giants back in October, Apple was back up to his old tricks.
That included the former first-round pick yielding 67 receiving yards to Cowboys rookie Michael Gallup in the first quarter alone. Apple also committed two penalties in the opening stanza. That’s certainly not what the Saints had in mind when they traded two draft picks for the cornerback just over a month ago.