Whatever happened to the Saints in a sluggish loss to Cowboys, it might cost them dearly

The consequences of the New Orleans Saints‘ loss on Thursday night are easy to figure out. It’s possible they go 14-2 and don’t get the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The Saints came into Dallas 10-1 but had no margin for error because the Los Angeles Rams were also 10-1. There’s still a long way to go this regular season, but the Rams are back in the lead for the No. 1 seed in the NFC after the Saints had a shockingly flat 13-10 loss to the Cowboys. It was a big win for the Cowboys, who are still in the driver’s seat of the NFC East. In terms of figuring out who might win this season’s Super Bowl, the Saints’ side of the story is more important.

The Saints aren’t unbeatable at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but close. It’s a much tougher task if the Saints have to go to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for an NFC championship game, if both teams get that far.

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Losses happen in the NFL, especially a road game on a Thursday night against a solid team like Dallas. But the Saints might not have been able to afford it in a tight NFC race.

A dejected Drew Brees didn’t get a lot of offense going in a loss to the Cowboys. (AP)
A dejected Drew Brees didn’t get a lot of offense going in a loss to the Cowboys. (AP)

Cowboys defense shut down Saints

It’s not like Dallas put out a blueprint on how to beat the Saints. The Saints likely just had a slow night on offense. It happens. But Dallas did very well to take away what New Orleans does well.

From the start it was clear that Dallas planned to play physical man-to-man defense on the Saints’ receivers. Their linebackers were fast enough to contain running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. And Byron Jones, a big corner who has played safety before, neutralized Saints No. 1 receiver Michael Thomas. Although the Saints are getting contributions from many receivers, Thomas is their best. If a team can take Thomas out of the game, it really limits the Saints’ offense.

The Saints were shut out in the first half for the first time in 71 games, which was the longest streak in the NFL. Drew Brees had 39 first-half passing yards, his lowest first-half total as a member of the Saints. It was shocking to see the Saints’ fantastic offense stuck for most of the game.

Some missed calls and mistakes hurt Saints

The Saints rallied in the second half. A roughing-the-punter penalty by Randy Gregory in the third quarter allowed the Saints to score a long touchdown and cut Dallas’ deficit to 13-10. The Saints defense was playing well, the offense is hard to keep down, and it seemed they might escape with a win.

Things got weird in the fourth quarter. Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith launched himself at Alvin Kamara and hit him with the crown of his helmet, an obvious penalty. Officials missed it and the Saints punted. On the Cowboys’ next drive, officials had a bad missed call when Cole Beasley’s knee went down but officials didn’t see it and he lunged ahead for a first down. Saints coach Sean Payton was out of challenges. That allowed the Cowboys to extend the drive and chew up clock.

Cameron Jordan’s strip sack of Dak Prescott with 2:35 left and the Cowboys deep in New Orleans territory gave the Saints hope. But Brees forced a throw under pressure and cornerback Jourdan Lewis’ great diving interception a couple plays later was a crushing blow. It was just Brees’ third interception all season. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. A shaky pass interference call against cornerback Marshon Lattimore with 1:58 left sealed the game.

The Saints are 10-2 and they should feel great about that. The Rams have some tough games left and could still give New Orleans a shot to get home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. But the Saints knew they might not have any margin for error coming into Thursday night’s game, and they leave Texas knowing that loss could cost them dearly later this season.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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