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(Saturday, December 19th)
Final Score: Dallas 24, New Orleans 17
New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) - Tony Romo was highly efficient, throwing for 312 yards and a touchdown, as the Dallas Cowboys survived mistakes and a fourth quarter Saints burst to hand New Orleans its first loss of the season, 24-17.
Romo completed 22-of-34 passes and did not throw an interception for the Cowboys (9-5), who had lost their last two games to begin December. Dallas has been criticized for its recent December failures, as Romo came in just 5-10 in the month in his career. The Cowboys had lost five of their last six December games.
"We understand how great they are and the season that they're having," Romo said. "It was obviously going to be a difficult challenge for us. But we were prepared for it and we felt the sense of urgency to come and get a win."
Dallas, though, ended the Saints' (13-1) bid for perfection with 439 total yards of offense and 36:26 total time of possession. In addition, the Cowboys committed zero turnovers in the contest.
"As great as they are offensively, we feel pretty good about our offense," Romo said. "We feel as though we don't go into a game thinking, 'Oh, we're pretty poor.' It's funny, we were able to rally around that a little bit this week."
Miles Austin caught seven passes from Romo for 139 yards and a score, and Marion Barber ran 17 times for 62 yards and two scores in the win. The Cowboys are now a half-game behind the Eagles in the NFC East and play them at Cowboys Stadium in Week 17.
Drew Brees struggled to move the New Orleans offense until late, although he finished with 298 passing yards with a touchdown and an interception on 29-of- 45 efficiency. He also had two lost fumbles, as the Saints had their lowest offensive output of the season; they had scored at least 24 points in every game this season.
Marques Colston had five catches for 86 yards, while David Thomas hauled in eight receptions for 77 yards in defeat.
The loss leaves the Colts as the lone unbeaten team in the NFL, after Indianapolis beat Jacksonville on Thursday to move to 14-0.
"You just feel like we deserved it, and the city deserved it and the organization deserved it, and we wanted to make it happen for all of them," Brees said. "That's probably what's most disappointing about it."
The Cowboys seemed to have the game locked up, as Nick Folk set up for a 24- yard field goal with 2:19 to play and Dallas ahead by seven. But Folk shanked the kick, which hit the right upright and bounced back onto the field, keeping it a 24-17 game and giving the Saints hope.
Brees' first pass fell incomplete, and his second pass was batted back into his arms for a four-yard loss. A four-yard completion to Pierre Thomas set up a 4th-and-10 at the 20; Brees then threw a short pass to Colston, who raced 14 yards for a first down to the Saints' 34 with just over a minute to play.
Three plays later, on 3rd-and-5, Brees hit Thomas for a six-yard gain with 32 seconds remaining. A 13-yard completion to Devery Henderson got New Orleans into Dallas territory with 18 ticks on the clock.
After an incomplete pass, Brees was sacked by DeMarcus Ware, who had sprained his neck and was taken off the field on a stretcher last week. Brees fumbled, and Ware also picked up the ball, sealing the win for the Cowboys.
The Saints started the game with a three-and-out, and Dallas, which hadn't had an opening-drive touchdown in 17 games, marched right down the field and into the end zone.
On 1st-and-10 from the New Orleans' 49, Romo found Austin streaking down the left sideline, and the two hooked up for a touchdown to end the streak and take a 7-0 lead.
New Orleans again failed to get a first down on its ensuing possession, and Dallas went in front, 14-0, on Barber's three-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-play, 60-yard series. Romo converted two third downs, including a 14- yard pass to Roy Williams to put the Cowboys into opposing territory.
"Early on we felt like we couldn't get in a rhythm," Brees said. "We go three- and-out and they get the ball and score, we go three-and-out again and they get the ball and score. So, we're down 14-0 there after the first quarter and had run six plays offensively. Didn't do much to help our defense or get them off the field and let them rest."
The Saints continued to struggle on offense, but the team strung together a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the middle of the second quarter to pull to within 14-3 on Garrett Hartley's 34-yard field goal with 7 1/2 minutes until halftime.
In the final minute, Brees was sacked, resulting in a fumble, and the Cowboys picked it up at the Saints' 24 with 45 seconds to go. Folk drilled a 44-yard field goal in the final seconds to account for the 17-3 halftime margin.
The Cowboys began the third quarter as they did the first, with a opening drive for a touchdown. Using a good balance of run and pass, Dallas went 74 yards in 13 plays, taking seven minutes off the clock; Barber finished the series with a run to the left pylon for a 24-3 game.
New Orleans had only approximately 2 1/2 minutes of possession in the third quarter and finally found the end zone early in the fourth. Mike Bell capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown with 12 1/2 minutes to play, cutting the Saints' deficit to 14.
The drive took only three minutes, and the hosts got the ball back again after a Cowboys three-and-out. Brees drove the team down the field in 3 1/2 minutes -- 70 yards in seven plays -- and threw a seven-yard pass in the flat to Lance Moore, who raced into the end zone for a 24-17 game with eight minutes remaining.
Dallas then looked to insert the dagger into New Orleans' undefeated hopes, and Romo led the team down the field. Facing a 3rd-and-7 from the Cowboys' 23, Romo hit Austin on a short pass, and Austin raced 32 yards to the New Orleans 45 to take the clock past the six-minute mark.
A 23-yard completion to John Phillips got the Cowboys to the 22, and Barber ran five yards for a first down to the 11 two plays later with four minutes remaining. Three rushing plays brought the clock down to 2:19, and Folk inexplicably missed a 24-yard field goal to keep the Saints within one possession.
"That's disappointing," Brees said of the perfect season ending. "You just don't know how many chances you're going to get at that. To get as close as we did, 13-0 with three to play in the regular season and the playoffs ahead of that. That's tough, that's tough. Feel like we fought so hard to get to where we're at right now."
Ware finished with two sacks and two forced fumbles...The Saints were without tight end Jeremy Shockey, who was inactive for the contest with a turf toe injury...New Orleans RB Reggie Bush left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. He caught a pass and came up lame, limping off the field...Saints DE Will Smith had two sacks and now has five sacks in three career games against the Cowboys...Felix Jones ran for 58 yards on 14 carries for the Cowboys...Brees set the franchise record for passing touchdowns with his 121st, eclipsing Aaron Brooks.
12/20 02:20:17 ET