'No job is not your job': Cowboys coaches, players shifted roles in Saints win without Mike McCarthy

·8 min read

NEW ORLEANS—Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sat in the passenger seat of a golf cart in the Caesars Superdome tunnel, three family members situated a row behind him. It was after 11 p.m. local time, and Jones was set to leave the stadium. But he waited a couple of minutes and explained: How did he feel after the Cowboys’ 27-17 victory over the Saints?

“I don’t know that I felt good but about 5 minutes out of 60 all night,” Jones admitted. “But it really is important. We needed to win the game. We did need to win the game.”

The Cowboys needed to win in spite of head coach Mike McCarthy missing the trip due to COVID-19, a November stretch featuring three losses in four weeks and a slew of on-field issues hampering their efficiency. They needed to win with a shuffled offensive staff and a defense dominant enough to overcome an offense managing just 2 conversions on 13 third-down attempts. And they needed to win even amid allowing an easy 24-yard touchdown to New Orleans early in the second quarter and 101 rushing yards to Saints quarterback Taysom Hill in his first start of the season.

4th & MONDAY: Our NFL newsletter always brings the blitz

WEEK 13 PICKS: Do Patriots or Bills emerge with AFC East lead?

LATE-SEASON RUN: Which surging NFL teams have enough to make playoff pushes?

Dallas Cowboys acting head coach Dan Quinn embraces a fellow coach during the first half of a game vs. the Saints.
Dallas Cowboys acting head coach Dan Quinn embraces a fellow coach during the first half of a game vs. the Saints.

So with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn assuming head coach-style communication channels, and his defense swiping a whopping four interceptions, the Cowboys traveled home from New Orleans at 8-4 with a 2.5-game lead atop the NFC East. Quinn was pleased to avoid telling McCarthy: “Hey, here’s your car keys, man. Sorry I screwed it up.”

“That was the only thing I was nervous about,” Quinn said in his postgame press conference. “I didn’t want to let down Mike.”

In New Orleans, the Cowboys showed flashes of the skills that buoyed their six-game win streak earlier in the season. Take the third offensive series of the game. Quarterback Dak Prescott found Amari Cooper downfield up the middle for 41 yards on third-and-7 with 2:50 to play in the first quarter, two plays later hitting receiver CeeDee Lamb in the backfield for what would officially be deemed a 33-yard rush courtesy Lamb’s elusive juking skills. The two big gains marched Dallas down to the 1-yard line, where Prescott roped a fade ball to Michael Gallup, who flexed his athleticism with an airborne touchdown catch.

The three-headed Cowboys receiving threat was back. Could the return of Cooper from COVID-19 and Lamb from a concussion re-energize this struggling offense?

Prescott and the Cowboys, however, failed to convert a third-down attempt after halftime.

“I’ve got to stay disciplined,” said Prescott, who completed 26-of-40 pass attempts for 238 yards, a touchdown and an interception. “Just playing play by play and not trying to put the dagger in them and knock them out of the game. That’s why I was sloppy there. I was trying to do more than what was within the play and what they were giving me. I’ve got to be more disciplined in those moments.

“(The defense) played their asses off. Credit this win to them.”

Indeed, this victory demonstrated the wealth of defensive playmakers the Cowboys possess and the effective packages Quinn and his staff are designing for them. Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons continued to star while lining up in a multitude of assignments, including a key drive-killing sack—Parsons’ franchise-record 10th—on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Parsons also clung tightly to receiver Kenny Stills as he traveled downfield late in the second quarter. The rookie hybrid defensive end/linebacker who more closely resembled a cornerback on the play, tracked Stills downfield on a 30-yard pass attempt and tipped the ball Saints quarterback Taysom Hill intended for him. Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse, closing in on Stills from behind, dove for Parsons’ tip and snagged in just in time to drag his toes inbounds for Dallas’ first interception of the day.

“Just quarters coverage, and Micah ran with the guy, the ball came off his hands, and I (grabbed) the ball off his hands,” Kearse said. “The rest is history. I can’t really explain it. I tried to make a play, and it just happened to go how it went. Kept 3 points off the board.”

The Cowboys scored a field goal before halftime to extend that swing to 6 points in what would ultimately be the 10-point victory.

In the fourth quarter, this trend only magnified.

Parsons’ sack set the tone after Hill had gashed the Cowboys defense for 75 rushing yards on seven attempts in the third quarter.

As the fourth quarter continued, Dallas gave Hill reason to doubt throwing at all on a day in which both starting offensive tackles and running back Alvin Kamara were out due to injury.

Hill escaped a strip-sack after officials reversed the call on review, but three plays later, trailing by 10 with 6:32 to play, Hill succumbed to a corner blitz from 5-10 Jourdan Lewis, who tipped Hill’s pass. Cowboys safety Damontae Kazee caught that deflected prayer. On the next series, cornerback Trevon Diggs nabbed his NFL-leading ninth interception of the season.

Oh, and the drive after that, six-foot-five, 305-pound defensive tackle Carlos Watkins disengaged from his block to swallow a pass intended for receiver Deonte Harris. Watkins powered his swipe 29 yards for a touchdown.

“Carlos had pretty good hands,” said Quinn, who recruited him out of high school when Watkins played basketball. “Any time you see one of the big guys rumbling and bumbling...that was a really cool play and those don’t happen that often.”

It was a fitting day for a defensive tackle to score a touchdown, Parsons to impersonate a member of the secondary and Cowboys’ second running back Tony Pollard to escape for a 58-yard score. Because on a week in which coaches and players needed to bandage holes left by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Cowboys set aside what their typical responsibilities might be in favor of what was necessary to win.

“We had to have everybody say, ‘No job is not your job right now,’” Quinn said. “We’ve got to get this thing done by any means necessary when moving parts come.

“The cool part about when you deliver – which the guys did – (is) there’s a lot of trust that gets built.”

The Cowboys believe that trust and resilience will guide them through their final five games of the season, four of which feature division opponents including three on the road. The defense showed the offense on Thursday that it will rise to the occasion when needed. Pollard, with his second-straight game featuring an explosive touchdown (he returned a kickoff 100 yards vs. the Raiders on Thanksgiving), showed the Cowboys that he can create plays as running back Ezekiel Elliott’s months-long knee injury lingers. And the Cowboys showed Prescott, who admits he was pressing in hopes of sparking his team, that he has the luxury of slightly more patience than he showed during the game.

Add in the looming return of players on injured reserve – the Cowboys expect defensive end Randy Gregory (calf) and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore (elbow) back next week – and Jones, on his golf cart late Thursday night, said he saw reason to have “a lot of confidence.”

McCarthy, from his North Texas hotel-room quarantine, texted Prescott to let his teammates know their head coach was proud. In return, quarterback told coach that they missed him but were ready to attack the final stretch of the regular season “the right way.”

Parsons said the Cowboys are just getting started.

“You’ve got five games left and there’s stuff to be done in those five games,” he said. “I don’t think it’s time for me to sit on my couch smiling eating Cheetos just yet. I’m trying to do something way bigger than what anybody else thought we could do this year (like) Super Bowl, playoffs.

“There’s still stuff out there that’s on the plate and got to get done.

“You’ve got to complete the whole mission.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones discuss atypical win against Saints

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting