Dallas Cowboys take advantage of interception-prone Taysom Hill to defeat New Orleans Saints

Jori Epstein
USA TODAY

NEW ORLEANS — The Cowboys and Saints played a mostly close game Thursday night that was ultimately decided by four Taysom Hill interceptions.

Dallas never trailed in the Superdome, but also kept the game close until late in the fourth quarter, when Cowboys safety Damontae Kazee, cornerback Trevon Diggs and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins nabbed interceptions on three consecutive series.

Watkins returned his 29 yards for a touchdown that capped off a 27-17 Cowboys victory.

The victory improves the Cowboys to 8-4, further secures the Cowboys’ stronghold on the NFC East and begins to cleanse Dallas from a 1-3 November.

The Saints fell to 5-7 as they suffered their fifth straight loss in Hill’s first start of the season.

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

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

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

Cowboys running back Tony Pollard runs for a touchdown against the Saints.

For most of the night, the game was gritty and close. The Cowboys offense alternately was futile – think: seven three-and-outs – and explosive, as in the third series of the game. It was then that the return of Cowboys receivers Amari Cooper (COVID-19) and CeeDee Lamb (concussion) were evident. Cooper snagged his first ball back and barreled downfield for 41 yards on third-and-7. His fellow receivers elevated their play accordingly, Lamb caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, only to juke out Saints defenders to the tune of a 33-yard gain. The following play, Michael Gallup posterized Saints cornerback Bradley Roby for a 1-yard fade touchdown in the back corner of the end zone.

The pass game productivity was needed for a team that’s struggled to run the ball over its last four games, run blocking and Ezekiel Elliott’s knee each hampering what in early season had been a punishing ground attack. At times, that ground dam burst open: Cowboys running back Tony Pollard ripped off a 58-yard touchdown around left, and Lamb’s 33-yard gain was reversed from reception status to a run on the box score. But the Cowboys have not consistently been able to rely on the run game to move the chains in weeks.

While their offense sputtered, their defense repeatedly bailed the team out. Big plays were ceded, the Saints finding 25 and 27 yard completions in the first quarter and a 24-yard touchdown to Lil’Jordan Humphrey early in the second quarter. Hill, despite the partially torn plantar fascia he’s nursing, rushed for 101 yards including a 24-yard scramble. He hurdled a Cowboys defender on one break free. 

But ultimately, athleticism, instincts and a Cowboys defense in sync featured highlights like Diggs’ ninth interception of the season (league best) and rookie linebacker Micah Parson’s whopping 10th sack.

Parsons also dropped back into coverage on a key play, deflecting a pass to Kenny Hill that safety Jayron Kearse instinctively dived for before it hit the ground and dragging his toes inbounds for an interception.

Prescott completed 26 of 40 passes for 238 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Lamb totaled 122 yards from scrimmage.

The Cowboys won in spite of a COVID outbreak that disrupted their week, sidelining two players and seven staffers including head coach Mike McCarthy.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn assumed head coach responsibilities for the win.

The Cowboys travel to Washington next week to begin a three-game stretch against division opponents.