IRVING, Texas (AP)—No matter how much Sean Payton insisted he wasn’t trying to prove anything to Bill Parcells, Drew Brees knew his coach was lying.
The facts support Brees’ side of the story.
Facing his former boss for the first time, Payton called for a reverse on a fourth-and-1 and made featured players out of guys who had never scored. Everything he drew up worked so well that the first-year head coach was brazen enough to call for an onside kick while his New Orleans Saints already were well on their way to a 42-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
The onside kick worked too, by the way, making the Saints (9-4) big winners in a showdown for sole possession of the second-best record in the NFC.
“I have a ton of respect for Bill and all he’s accomplished in Dallas,” Payton said of the man he was an assistant to for the last three seasons. “This was two good 8-4 teams playing a big game. It wasn’t me competing against Bill. It was about the teams, not the head coaches.”
Yeah, right, said Brees, who took advantage of Payton’s nifty play-calling to match his career high with five touchdown passes, all before the third quarter ended. The only excitement in the fourth was Payton getting doused by a bucket of Gatorade.
“I could tell it was very special for him,” said Brees, who was 26-of-38 for 384 yards. “He didn’t put a lot of added pressure on us this week. He just went on with his business. But I could see in the gleam in his eye at the end of the game. … I could tell it meant a lot.”
Parcells absorbed most of this one with his lips pinched and his arms crossed. Not even Tony Romo could save the Tuna from the embarrassment.
Romo had the worst game of his budding career: 16-of-33 for 249 yards, with two interceptions and a fluke touchdown to Terrell Owens on what would have been another pickoff if cornerback Fred Thomas wasn’t wearing a cast.
“That was a pretty good licking,” said Parcells, who shared a quick handshake with Payton at game’s end. “I can’t think of anything we did very well.”
The Cowboys (8-5) had won four straight games and five of six. They were playing so well that on Monday he spoke to them about what it takes to win a championship.
Dallas still has a one-game lead over the New York and Philadelphia in the NFC East.
“We just made some mistakes on things that we shouldn’t have,” Romo said. “We’ll see what we’re made of now.”
With Seattle losing earlier Sunday, Dallas went out knowing the No. 2 seed was there for the taking. Maybe it was too easy at first, with a four-play stand by the defense followed by a 77-yard touchdown run by Julius Jones on the Cowboys’ second snap.
Hardly anything else went right for Dallas.
A defense that hadn’t allowed more than 22 points in any of the last six games gave up 21 in the second quarter, then another 21 in the third. The offense’s only other touchdown came on the fluke grab by T.O.
“For whatever reason, we weren’t ready,” Dallas nose tackle Jason Ferguson said.
Cowboys fans headed for the exits when the third quarter ended—it was already 10 p.m., after all—leaving the seats mostly to the gold-and-black clad Saints fans. And there were plenty of them, as heard every time “Dooooo-ce” McAllister got the ball, or when “Reg-gie!” Bush did something exciting. Chants of “Who Dat?!” rang out throughout the fourth quarter.
New Orleans has a two-game lead in the NFC South with three games left. The Saints also are in position to grab a first-round playoff bye for the first time in franchise history.
They certainly looked worthy to a national prime-time audience Sunday night.
“We let a lot of people know what we are all about,” Brees said.
Picking up where he left off in his last game at Texas Stadium, a championship victory for Austin high school in 1996, Brees led New Orleans to six touchdowns in a span of seven drives over the middle two quarters. Along the way, he took them 88 and 95 yards for scores, plus cashed in on an interception and the onside kick.
A lot of his success came from great play-calling by Payton, such as trusting Mike Karney, a burly fullback who had never scored in 43 NFL games. He wound up with two receiving TDs and one rushing.
Another surprise was Jamal Jones. He had only two catches in his 10-game, two-year career, but caught a 27-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half.
On the play before, Jones was ruled to have caught a pass for a first down at the Dallas 15. The ball came out at the end and Parcells thought it was an incompletion, so he threw his challenge flag. However, it was in the final 2 minutes, when all challenges come from the booth. So he was hit with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Payton was more successful in his use of the red hanky, getting an out-of-bounds call on Karney turned into his third TD. It wasn’t as dazzling as a 61-yard catch and run by Bush earlier in the third quarter, but it proved to be more of a turning point because of the onside kick, which led to a 42-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson.
Bush caught six passes for 125 yards and ran six times for 37. McAllister ran for 111 yards on 21 attempts.
Saints rookie Marques Colston caught five passes for 48 yards after missing the two previous games with a sprained left ankle.
Jones finished with 116 yards rushing for Dallas and Terry Glenn caught eight passes for 150 yards.
Already the NFL leader in yards passing, Brees topped 4,000 for the first time in his career. … Jones’ TD tied the second-longest ever allowed by the Saints and matched the fifth-longest in Cowboys history. … Cowboys kicker Martin Gramatica missed a 43-yarder just before halftime, then made a 24-yarder in the third quarter.