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Sunday Night wrap-up: Saints win defensive struggle

Teddy Bridgewater and the Saints defense did just enough to hand the Cowboys their first loss of the season in a 12-10 victory in New Orleans.

We’re not used to the idea that a game featuring the Cowboys and Saints might struggle to reach double digits in scoring.

But either the offenses are listing in the first month of the season, or the defenses on both sides have made significant improvements.

The Saints snuck out a 12-10 win on Sunday, improving to 3-1, without scoring a touchdown.

But it wasn’t easy, or pretty.

It took an interception on a Dallas Hail Mary to seal the game, but the margin was small all night.

The Saints have gradually improved a defense that was dreadful not that many years ago, and the Cowboys have added pass-rush help and suddenly found depth at linebacker (at least during this time in which Sean Lee’s not injured).

It’s an unusual phenomenon, and perhaps it’s just a combination of Drew Brees’ thumb injury and some regression to the mean on the Cowboys’ side (Dallas was averaging 32 points per game in the first three).

But it’s not what we expected by any stretch of the imagination.

Between the struggles both teams put on tape Sunday, and a late injury to Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, both offenses left this game with more questions than answers.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. Maybe it just takes Dak Prescott 30 minutes to get warmed up. And maybe it doesn’t last long.

The Cowboys quarterback is now a perfect 28-of-28 passing, for 457 yards and three touchdowns in third quarters this year.

They’ve also scored a touchdown on their first possession of the second half in all four games.

Whether he’s inspired by Jason Garrett’s speeches, or just needs a bathroom break or something, he needs to keep doing whatever it is that’s working, or perhaps start earlier.

Sunday, he was 6-of-6 for 73 yards in his one drive in the third quarter.

He wasn’t great in the first, second, and fourth, but in minutes 30-45, he was strong.

2. This isn’t exactly breaking news, but Brees is apparently good at football.

While Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is often credited as one of the top backups in the NFL, the drop-off from his starter is noticeable and profound. Brees is still out for several more weeks following thumb surgery.

That’s not necessarily a shot at Bridgewater, but more of an indication of the incredible level Brees and Sean Payton have kept in recent years.

While Brees doesn’t have the same arm strength he used to have, there’s a noticeable shortening of the game plan when Bridgewater’s under center. (There’s also the fact that Brees would have probably gotten rid of the ball late rather than taking a bad sack, which kept them out of field goal range.)

Those limitations are still something the Saints can be effective with, but it’s not Brees.

Few are.

Bridgewater finished 23-of-30 for 193 yards and an interception, which was merely OK, and enough for a night.

3. Yes, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten’s second-quarter fumble was rare.

In fact, it was just his ninth (seventh lost) in 243 games.

His last fumble was Oct. 8, 2017, against the Packers, and that was the only one of his previous non-broadcasting season.

4. Cowboys pass-rusher Robert Quinn has been a solid addition.

But it’s easier to make highlight reel hits when you’re unblocked.

The Saints had a few protection breakdowns that led to Quinn getting a few free shots at Bridgewater. He’s still a talented pass-rusher at age 29, but the Saints may have made him look better than he actually is.

5. Prescott’s not the only one who started slow Sunday.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott had just 26 yards on 11 carries in the first half, which seems impossible considering his talents and the line in front of him.

Part of that had to do with the improved interior defense of the Saints, which kept him bottled up early.

But he never got on track in the second half, finishing with 18 carries for 35 yards.