This was not the 47-points, 40-first downs, 625-yards pounding the Dallas Cowboys defense endured in their last visit to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome two years ago.
To Dallas cornerback Mo Claiborne, it was worse.
“Any time you lose it hurts,” the former LSU standout said in the gloom of the Cowboys locker room after the Saints’ stunning 26-20 overtime victory. “But this is the kind that rips your heart out.
“It’s just that feeling. We’ve got to just try to put this behind us and go out next week and get it done.”
That won’t be easy.
The Pokes next play host to undefeated, rested New England. Gulp!
A 2-0 start against NFC East rivals New York and Philadelphia had Dallas looking back at the pack. Now, without Tony Romo for at least another month, they’re 2-2 and facing the likelihood of falling under .500 with the resurgent Giants and Seattle coming up after the Pats.
But then again, nothing in the NFL is ever supposed to be easy.
The Cowboys and Saints made it hard on each other Sunday — and themselves.
The Saints’ Zach Hocker missed a likely game-winning 30-yard field goal and the home team drew 64 yards in penalties.
But in the second half, Dallas had five flags thrown, and although they were all only 5-yarders, they helped the Saints move the sticks.
Which they needed.
With Drew Brees’ shoulder limiting the Saints’ downfield passing game even more than it had been in the season’s first two games — at least until that last play.
Before then, the Saints’ biggest gain had been Drew Brees’ 30-yard completion to Brandon Coleman on the drive that produced Hocker’s missed three-pointer.
And the Cowboys run defense was holding its own — at least until Mark Ingram broke though with a couple of good gains to set up a go-ahead touchdown, Dallas made the Saints work for every yard, first down and point.
“They just came out and executed when they needed to execute,” said Claiborne, who had a quiet night with four tackles and one pass defended. “And Drew Brees was a leader.
“We didn’t capitalize on a lot of plays we left out on the field.”
Still, you don’t lose many games on an 80-yard pass in overtime, especially to someone who had only two touches for minus-1 yard in the first half,
“We’re always aware of a guy like that,” Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “We just miscommunicated.
“I’m going to take that one. It was my job to make sure everybody was lined up and knew what to do.”
Neither did the Cowboys come up with any turnovers, although the Saints didn’t either.
There was one close call — a reversal of the third-quarter fumble call on a run by Ingram. While Ingram’s knee was clearly down, it wound up being a play that gave the Saints a first down at the Dallas 36 and they went on to get a tying field goal.
“When you get turnovers, you win games,” Hitchens said. “We’ve got to do better on that end.”
Offensively Brandon Weeden is no Romo, but he did about as well as could be expected — completing 16 of 26 passes for 246 yards, including the 17-yarder to Terrance Williams that tied it at 20.
But the Cowboys could not otherwise control the ball in the second, netting only 25 rushing yards, while Weeden was sacked twice.
“We had a lot of momentum early in the game,” said Weeden, who took his team on scoring drives on its first two possessions, but only two more after that.
“And that was a real good defense we were playing against tonight with a lot of tight coverages. And when you’re playing against an elite quarterback, you’ve got to keep him off the field, and we didn’t.
Of course, winning the coin flip going into overtime might have accomplished that, but the Cowboys didn’t.
“You never know about something like that,” Claiborne said. “Maybe it went exactly the way it was supposed to.
“There were a lot of crazy things out there tonight, including letting the refs having too much say in the game. We’ve just got to strap it up and put this behind us.”