IRVING, Texas (AP)—Just when Bill Parcells thought the Dallas Cowboys were back in the playoff chase, he found out the hard way how wrong he was.
The Cowboys wasted an early lead over the New Orleans Saints, stalling on offense and allowing two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 27-13 loss Sunday that seriously damaged their chances of earning a wild-card berth.
Deuce McAllister ran for two touchdowns, John Carney kicked two field goals and Joe Horn added a 31-yard touchdown catch in the closing minutes to help the Saints (5-8) end a three-game losing streak and beat Dallas on the road for the first time in 10 tries.
“We just were bad,” Parcells said. “I’m just disgusted. … Right now, it doesn’t look like we’re going very far.”
Dallas (5-8) came in having won consecutive games, including a thrilling 43-39 victory over Seattle on Monday night. With running back Julius Jones reviving the offense and mostly weak foes left on the schedule, the Cowboys liked their chances of making the playoffs.
Instead, they blew a 10-0 team and lost at home to a team that had lost three straight and was more curious about its coach’s status than its playoff possibilities. Dallas had just 269 yards and one penalty-aided touchdown against a defense that was giving up the most points and yards in the NFL.
The Cowboys have had plenty of painful losses this season, but this one hurts more because of what was at stake—and because it was so winnable.
“Every time we have an opportunity with this team to do something and to maybe make something out of our season, we revert to the kind of thing you saw today, which was a very, very poor example of how to try to win,” Parcells said, his voice more deflated than irate. “We couldn’t make a play when we needed to.”
New Orleans could’ve had its spirit broken after getting shut out in the first quarter for an 11th straight game, especially with a fake punt and a reverse on a kickoff backfiring. It also didn’t help when Aaron Brooks threw an interception in the end zone while trailing by 10.
But the Saints rallied to tie it just before halftime, then matched Dallas at 13 midway through the third quarter. New Orleans went ahead for the first time on a 5-yard TD run by McAllister with 5:21 left and Horn stretched the lead. He celebrated by running a finger under the words “Remember Our Troops” on a sign behind the end zone.
“I wish we could’ve played this well all year long,” said McAllister, who ran a season-high 30 times for 83 yards and caught four passes for 37.
Brooks was 18-of-31 for 252 yards with two interceptions. Horn had 84 yards on five catches and Donte’ Stallworth had 113 yards on five catches.
The New Orleans defense came up with four turnovers and three sacks, jamming receivers and harassing Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde into going 14-of-35 for 167 yards while keeping the Cowboys on their side of the 50 for most of the last three quarters.
Coach Jim Haslett, whose job security is shaky, was as surprised as anyone by how his team put it all together.
“If you figure it out, you tell me,” he said. “I’ve been trying to figure this out for two years.”
The Cowboys could’ve been up 21-0 after three possessions. They missed a field goal after reaching the 19, made one after wasting first down from the 18 and got their only touchdown after a questionable pass interference call put the ball at the 1.
Testaverde struggled all game, drawing plenty of boos. After leading Dallas to two touchdowns in the final 1:45 just six days earlier, his three fourth-quarter drives with the game on the line resulted in two quick punts and a fumble.
Jones had 88 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, ending his NFL record-tying streak of three straight games with at least 30 rushes.
“I’m very frustrated,” Jones said. “We had something going and I’m disappointed we couldn’t keep it going.”
The Cowboys will have to win their final three just to break even and hope that’s good enough to keep up Parcells’ streak of always making the playoffs in his second season with a team. It won’t be easy: next up is Philadelphia. ^Notes: New Orleans linebacker Orlando Ruff sprained his right ankle in the first quarter and didn’t return. Haslett wasn’t sure if he’d miss any games. … Dallas S Roy Williams had his first interception of the year. … The Saints’ defense was 0-for-6 on fourth downs until stopping the Cowboys on fourth-and-4 late in the second quarter. … The Cowboys had 11 penalties, easily their most in nine games.