NEW ORLEANS (AP) Running back C.J. Spiller came to New Orleans as a free agent this past offseason figuring that his speed and versatility would make him an ideal fit for coach Sean Payton's offense.
Then a training camp injury caused him to miss the regular season opener, and his opportunities had been so limited during his first two games back that Payton acknowledged he probably needed to give Spiller more chances to make a play.
Now Spiller is one of the main reasons the Saints have their first victory of the season, a 26-20 triumph over Dallas on Sunday night that ended with the running back's 80-yard catch and run on the second play of overtime.
''I'm always focused on staying in tune, because you never know when you are going to go out there,'' Spiller said. ''I wasn't worried about how many times I was touching the ball throughout the game. I was making sure to keep my legs loose.''
His legs were loose enough for him to flash past a linebacker trying to cover him, then slip a desperate grasp by safety Barry Church before breaking into the clear. Not only was Spiller in tune with the game plan, he was aware that Brees had thrown his 399th career scoring pass earlier in the game. So moments after scoring, Spiller found Brees and gave him the ball with which the star QB had thrown his 400th TD.
''I ran up to him and said `This is your ball, brother. You deserve it,''' Spiller said. ''He's probably the best teammate that I have ever played with just from his work ethic, preparation, the way that he believes in his guys, as well as the way he goes out and competes.''
The Cowboys (2-2), who lost their second straight, could only wish they'd been as fortunate as the Saints (1-3) were in getting Brees and several other key players back from injuries. Dallas QB Tony Romo won't return for another month or so from his broken clavicle and top receiver Dez Bryant also was out with a broken foot. More key injuries mounted during the game, including linebacker Sean Lee's concussion and running back and returner Lance Dunbar injured his knee.
''We fought really hard and had some different adversities that happened in the ballgame with different guys playing,'' Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. ''It wasn't always clean in our execution, but we battled.''
Here are some things to know about the game:
BREES' SHOULDER: Brees stopped short of saying he was 100 percent. He settled for saying his arm was good enough to do the job, and his numbers did bear that out, even if some of this throws floated off target and several were nearly intercepted. Completing mostly short passes, Brees finished 33 of 41 for 359 yards and two TDs.
WEEDEN'S WOE: Dallas backup Brandon Weeden can't seem to do enough to win, even when he comes through in the clutch. He was 16 for 26 for 246 yards, including a 17-yard, game-tying scoring strike to Terrance Williams on fourth down with less than 2 minutes remaining. He did not throw an interception, but was sacked three times.
DEVELOPING DEFENSE: The Saints are getting healthy on defense. Yet cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Jairus Byrd and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe didn't necessarily stand out, at least not statistically, in their first came back from various injuries. All three Saints sacks were registered by rookies: linebackers Hau'oli Kikaha and Stephone Anthony and defensive lineman Tyeler Davison.
COWBOYS PRESSURE: Dallas was able to disrupt Brees often. The Siants QB was sacked three times and hit often as he threw. Payton said Brees ''got hit a little too much for my liking.'' Sacks came from Jack Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence, as well as Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens, who combined on one. The Cowboys' pass rush should be even better next week with the anticipated return of Greg Hardy from suspension.
HOCKER'S HOPE: Saints first-year kicker Zach Hocker can only hope he gets more chances after missing a potential game-winner from 30 yards at the end of regulation. It was a cruel ending to an otherwise good night for Hocker, who hit from 51 and 29 yards and also landed a 43-yard punt at the Dallas 9 while filling in for hobbled Thomas Morstead in the fourth quarter.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/AP-NFL