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Derick Hingle / Associated press
With four of their last five regular-season games scheduled to be played against rivals from the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys needed a win on Thursday night. They have struggled lately and their lead in the division was starting to wane.
Dallas had lost two straight games and three of their previous four games. And that was not going to be easy. The Cowboys were going to the hostile Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, and they were doing it without head coach Mike McCarthy and several of his assistants, who were all away due to COVID-19 protocols.
Still, Dallas succeeded. He took control of the game late in the first half, then relied on his defense to wrap up a 27-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The Cowboys notched four interceptions, all against Saints quarterback Taysom Hill.
Greg Zuerlein kicked two baskets in the final nine minutes and 4 seconds of the second quarter to give Dallas a 13-7 halftime lead, and New Orleans couldn’t close the deficit.
Here are three takeaways from Dallas’ Week 13 victory.
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Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images
Entering Thursday, the Cowboys were tied for first in the NFL with 19 interceptions. After week 13, there is a good chance that they will be alone at the top of this category.
Trevon Diggs, Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse and Carlos Watkins all knocked out Hill, and three of those interceptions came in the fourth quarter. Diggs once led the NFL in interceptions, and he now has nine notable interceptions this season.
But the most impressive turnaround came from Watkins, who ended the Saints’ return attempt by scoring a touchdown on a 29-yard intercept return with 2:52 remaining, carrying the lead of the Saints. Cowboys at 27-10. It was Dallas’ fourth pick-six of the season, and the only other years he had that many were 1999, 1995 and 1985, per Cowboys Public Relations.
“It’s definitely a Christmas present in advance,” Watkins said of his first career TD, per Calvin watkins of Dallas Morning News. “It’s every fat guy’s dream to have a choice and to reach the end zone.”
The Saints offense was missing some key players and the Cowboys defense capitalized. But that shouldn’t have been a surprise. This defense is increasingly known for its big plays, which could be what propels Dallas to the playoffs this season.
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Brett Duke / Associated Press
The Cowboys had 146 rushing yards against a strong Saints’ defensive front. However, 58 of those yards were won by Tony Pollard in the third quarter. Other than that, the Dallas running game struggled for much of the night.
Ezekiel Elliott, who suffers from a knee injury, completed 13 carries for 45 yards. He hasn’t run 100 yards in a game since Week 5, and he’s been limited to 69 yards or less rushing in each of his seven games since.
Pollard had an impressive touchdown run, but was limited to 13 yards on his other six carries. And 33 of the Cowboys’ other rushing yards came from a single attempt by wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.
For now, Pollard’s big play potential is keeping Dallas’ ground play afloat. But if the Cowboys are to succeed throughout the regular season and into the playoffs, they need to start racking up more consistent distances with their rushed offense.
When Dallas can do it, it opens things up even more for their passing game and therefore makes them a much more dynamic attack.
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Brett Duke / Associated Press
The Washington football team surged, the Philadelphia Eagles showed their potential, and the New York Giants played better. Still, the Cowboys are clearly the best team in the NFC East, and they’re in a good position to win their Premier League crown since 2018.
Dallas faces Washington twice in its next three games, meetings that sandwich a Week 15 road clash in New York. The Cowboys host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 (their only non-divisional game remaining) before ending the regular season on the road against the Eagles.
So, of the four remaining NFC East clashes in Dallas, three will be on the road. Despite that, the Cowboys could claim three more wins than any other team in the division after Sunday, and it would take a major collapse for one of their rivals to overtake them in the standings.
Now that Dallas has put an end to its recent skid, it’s in a good position to get back on the road and build momentum ahead of the playoffs. Because at this point it seems very likely that’s where the 8-4 Cowboys are headed.