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Sunday, December 23, 2012
Report Card: Cowboys can't finish Saints

By Tim MacMahon


Rushing Offense

The Cowboys didn't run the ball often despite facing a Saints defense ranked 31st against the rush. They didn't run the ball particularly well, either. DeMarco Murray gained only 40 yards on 11 carries, an average of 3.6 per pop, with a long of 9. None of the Cowboys' other backs carried the ball at all. Murray's lost fumble -- his second of his career and second in two weeks -- was by far the most impactful play from the Cowboys' running game. The Saints recovered at the Dallas 5 and scored a touchdown a few plays later.


Passing Offense

Tony Romo threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns with no picks on 26-of-43 passing. Dez Bryant caught nine passes for a career-high 224 yards with a pair of 58-yard touchdowns. It's pretty tough to pin this loss on the Cowboys' passing game, but it did sputter at two critical points of the game. The three-and-out before halftime allowed the Saints to get the ball with enough time to drive for a field goal. The three-and-out in overtime allowed the Saints to drive for the game-winning field goal. Miles Austin had an up-and-down day, dropping two balls but grabbing the touchdown that sent the game into overtime.


Rushing Defense

The Saints tried to pound away at the Dallas defense, handing it to their tailback trio a total of 37 times. The Saints rushed for only 117 yards (3.2 per carry), including a 9-yard touchdown by Mark Ingram on the game's first possession. Scatback Darren Sproles (nine carries, 48 yards) gave the Cowboys some problems on the perimeter with his quickness, but the Dallas defense held its ground up the middle despite missing its top two nose tackles, three of its top four inside linebackers and a starting defensive end.


Passing Defense

It was easy pickings for Drew Brees, who completed 37-of-53 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. The Cowboys didn't have anything resembling a respectable pass rush, hurrying Brees only twice and sacking him once. DeMarcus Ware watched much of the second half after re-injuring his right shoulder, but it's still inexcusable for the pass rush to be that poor. The Cowboys couldn't cover receiver Marques Colston (10 catches, 153 yards), running back Darren Sproles (seven catches, 104 yards) or tight end Jimmy Graham (seven catches, 88 yards).


Special Teams

This definitely wasn't Dwayne Harris' best day. He muffed a kickoff -- and was fortunate that Dallas' James Hanna recovered -- and let a punt bounce at the Cowboys' 14 and roll to the 3. Other than that, it was a good day for the Cowboys' special teams units. They contained dangerous Darren Sproles, who had two punt returns for 10 yards and one kickoff return for 15 yards. Harris had a 28-yard punt return. Brian Moorman had a net average of 46.2 yards per punt, twice pinning the Saints inside the 10. And Dan Bailey drilled a 47-yard field goal, his lone attempt.



You can complain about Jason Garrett's clock management before the half, when the Cowboys went three-and-out and left 47 seconds on the clock, plenty of time for Drew Brees to drive the Saints for a field goal. You can complain about Garrett not feeding a beasting Dez Bryant in the third quarter, or defensive coordinator Rob Ryan not bringing heat on Brees. Once again, however, Garrett has to get some credit for the mental toughness this team has to make a comeback that ultimately wasn't enough to win.