NEW ORLEANS -- Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was some 530 miles away from the Caesars Superdome in Frisco, Texas, watching from a hotel because he is in COVID-19 protocols. Five other coaches and two players were not in New Orleans either because of the virus.
The Cowboys met virtually before and after practices leading into Thursday’s game and were unable to use the weight room the entire week. Upon arriving in New Orleans on Wednesday evening, players were sequestered in a downtown hotel to mitigate the possibility of adding more players to the COVID list.
“Mike did a good job just making sure everything stayed level of how we do things and the approach,” said defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who filled in for McCarthy on Thursday. “We weren’t going to make s--- up and change everything. It was more, ‘Hey, man, let’s make sure we do this in the style and the fashion that we needed to.'"
The win snapped a two-game losing streak and improved the Cowboys’ record to 8-4. They remain in the chase for homefield advantage and widen the gap in the NFC East over the 5-6 Washington Football Team, who the Cowboys have to play twice in the final five weeks.
Credit the Cowboys' ability to overcome adversity. Credit running back Tony Pollard, whose 58-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Cowboys some breathing room. Credit a defense that struggled in slowing quarterback Taysom Hill’s running but came up with four interceptions.
Playing their third game in 12 days, the Cowboys could not afford another loss, which would have been their fourth in their last five contests.
"Make no mistake we were not pleased with our last performance so we needed to come back and make sure we played like we’re capable of," Quinn said. "It was just cool to see the guys fight and battle.”
It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was ugly. But on this night, style points didn’t matter.
“A win’s a win,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “It means a lot. The adversity that we faced coming off the last two weeks and then coming in this week being hit with the COVID, losing the head coach this week, so many people stepped up. Credit to Dan Quinn, the coordinators, all the leaders on this team to do everything necessary to be ready for this game and through the ups and downs in the game.”
Pivotal play: It could be Pollard’s long run, but Micah Parsons did Micah Parsons things after the touchdown. With the Cowboys leading, 20-10 to start the fourth quarter, the Saints were in field goal range facing third-and-2, but then Parsons happened. The rookie closed down on Hill and picked up an 11-yard sack, taking the Saints out of scoring position and forcing a punt. It was Parson’s 10th sack of the season. He now has 7.5 sacks in his last five games.
Silver lining: The Cowboys’ second series offered a glimpse of what the offense can be. Playing together for just the third time this season because of either injury or COVID-19, wide receivers Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup combined for 67 yards in a four-play span that ended in a touchdown. Cooper, playing for the first time since Nov. 21, converted a third down for 31 yards. Lamb took what was later deemed a lateral, 33 yards. Gallup scored on a 1-yard fade from Prescott, just getting his toes down inbounds.
Troubling trend: Big plays have been an issue for the Cowboys defense all season, so this isn’t really a recent trend. This is who they really are. But when the opponent’s passing game is as limited as the Saints because Hill is the quarterback, they did not have either offensive tackle and the skill players are -- to be kind -- not the best, it’s troubling that New Orleans had four completions of 20 or more yards. The Saints entered tied for the fewest completions of 20 or more yards on the season at 26.