The Cowboys had heard the narrative before.
A perfect 3–0 heading into Sunday night’s matchup against the Saints at the Superdome, the doubts surrounding their dominance were loud and clear. They were undefeated, but their wins came against the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins. They sunk their opponents 97–44, but they hadn’t been tested by a competitive defense. The Cowboys marched into New Orleans ready to put the questions to rest, to prove to the league and themselves how good they really are.
They couldn’t, and after a crushing 12–10 defeat, we still don’t have that answer.
In what was heavily considered a measuring stick game a quarter of the way through the 2019 season, Dallas struggled against a Saints team without Drew Brees––and struggled badly. The primetime clash between the two sides was a defensive battle early, one that held Ezekiel Elliott to just 27 yards on 11 carries through two quarters. Dak Prescott tallied just 81 yards through the air, getting Dallas just barely over 100 yards of offense at the half. Fumbles on two consecutive drives only added to the Cowboys’ overall sloppiness, handing the Saints a 9–3 lead at the break.
The door was still open for Dallas to make a statement, though. Even after being gifted a slow start, the Saints weren’t particularly taking advantage. Bridgewater finished with just 193 yards passing and an interception on the night. Alvin Kamara rushed for 69 yards on 11 carries, but even he was contained for most of the outing. They couldn’t score a touchdown. They killed their drives with penalties.
And the Cowboys still couldn’t win.
Give the Saints’ defense credit where it’s due. Marshon Lattimore blanketed Amari Cooper. Devin Smith had just one target and didn't catch it. Randall Cobb was invisible, except when he was dropping passes. Elliott finished the game with just 35 rushing yards. When Prescott had one last chance to lead a game-winning drive––something he'd done more often in his first three seasons than any quarterback in NFL history––they immediately sent a blitz, forcing the game-clinching interception and the third turnover of the night.
Still, the Cowboys we saw in New Orleans were not the Cowboys we saw in Weeks 1-3. Sunday’s loss means that the common narrative in Dallas will last a week longer, when they play the Packers at home. That the questions surrounding the legitimacy of their start will only grow louder.
And until those questions are answered, it might be wise to hold back on crowning the Cowboys as the NFC’s best team. At least for now.