After an inconsistent first five weeks, the New Orleans Saints seem to be regaining their Super Bowl form and are getting healthier.
The Dallas Cowboys are also playing their best football of the season, but it’s followed a disastrous first two months.
Playing in their first Thanksgiving Day game, the Saints hope to have Reggie Bush(notes) back as they go for their fourth straight win in a road matchup with the Cowboys, who are trying to move to 3-0 under interim coach Jason Garrett.
New Orleans (7-3) averaged an NFL-best 31.9 points during its 2009 Super Bowl season but got off to a shaky start this year, going 3-2 while averaging 19.8 points. The Saints, one game back of Atlanta in the NFC South, have since won four of five, averaging 29.8 points in those victories.
“The time you want to be playing your best is now,” quarterback Drew Brees(notes) said after a 34-19 win over Seattle on Sunday. “You want to be escalating here as November and December come around. Here we are, we’ve won three in a row. I feel like we’re playing better and better each week.”
Improving on Sunday’s performance won’t be easy, as New Orleans racked up 494 yards of offense - its most since Week 1 of last season - with Brees passing for 382 yards and four touchdowns. The Saints also moved the ball on the ground despite the absence Bush and Pierre Thomas(notes), as undrafted rookie Chris Ivory rushed for 99 yards.
“(Sunday) we played at times as well as we’ve played all season,” said Brees, who is averaging 313.3 yards to go with eight passing TDs during the three-game winning streak. “That gets you excited because you feel like, man, we’re knocking at the door. Just imagine if we can continue to kind of get all the weapons back.”
The Saints are hoping Bush returns Thursday after he sat out his eighth straight game Sunday with a broken bone in his right leg. Bush worked out on the field before the Seattle game, but New Orleans decided to make him a late scratch.
“We are on the cusp,” Brees said.
Last season, the Saints didn’t experience the same injury issues and won their first 13 games. The dream of a perfect season ended when Dallas handed them a 24-17 loss at the Superdome on Dec. 19.
The Cowboys’ victory over New Orleans, which ended a five-game skid in the series, spurred a season-ending three-game winning streak that lifted Dallas to the NFC East title. The Cowboys - winners of four straight on Thanksgiving Day - were expected to again contend for the division crown, but have instead been one of the league’s biggest disappointments.
Dallas (3-7), though, is starting to get things turned around under Garrett.
After Wade Philips was fired and Garrett took over, the Cowboys snapped a five-game losing streak by defeating the New York Giants 33-20 on Nov. 14, then beat Detroit 35-19 on Sunday.
“When you are looking for crumbs, it doesn’t take but a little piece to get you to smile, and these (wins) have been a couple of nice little pieces,” owner Jerry Jones said.
The offense is running smoothly behind quarterback Jon Kitna(notes), who has more wins this season than injured starter Tony Romo(notes). The defense is also looking solid after allowing an average of 35.8 points during the skid.
Brees and the Saints should provide a good test of that defensive progress. Dallas did a decent job against him last season, as the four-time Pro Bowler finished with 298 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Kitna has thrown three touchdown passes in each of the last two games, and the Cowboys have put up back-to-back 30-point efforts after reaching that mark once in their first eight.
Kitna is benefiting from a resurgent ground game. Dallas has averaged 117.0 rushing yards in the last two games after totaling 130 in the previous three.
“The people I’m playing with allow me to play at this level,” said Kitna, who rushed 29 yards for a TD against the Lions, the longest run of his 14-year career. “When they’re playing like that, the quarterback position becomes easy.”
It might not be so easy Thursday. The Saints rank second in passing defense at 186.3 yards and have allowed just seven touchdowns through the air.
Blog Coverage from SB Nation
Chris Givens WR, Kenyon Coleman DE, A.J. Davis CB, Will Smith LB, Joseph Morgan WR, Patrick Robinson CB, Jonathan Vilma LB, Jabari Greer CB, Victor Butler LB, Travaris Cadet RB, Keyunta Dawson LB, Josh Hill TE, Rafael Bush S
Tyrone Crawford DE, Ryan Cook C, Matt Johnson S, Jeff Olson T, Ben Bass DE, Anthony Spencer DE, Brian Waters G, Lance Dunbar RB, Justin Durant LB, Jason Hatcher DT, George Selvie DE, Brandon Carr CB, DeMarcus Ware DE, Bruce Carter LB, Jarius Wynn DE, Terrance Williams WR, Morris Claiborne CB, Ernie Sims LB, Dwayne Harris WR, Sean Lee LB