ARLINGTON, Texas — Standing on the floor of a rowdy Mercedes-Benz Superdome last Nov. 10, Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray could do nothing but watch the New Orleans Saints offense pound the Dallas Cowboys defense into submission.
That Sunday evening, Drew Brees and the Saints rained total yards, first downs and points from start to finish on the Cowboys’ porous defense, which went on to finish last in the league in total yards allowed.
The Saints set a single-game NFL record with 40 first downs en route to producing a franchise-record 625 total yards in a 49-17 drubbing of the Cowboys.
It was so bad, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that night it was “embarrassing not to be representative, not to be competitive.”
On Sunday night, Romo and Murray flipped the script in a big way by taking a 24-0 halftime lead and a 28-point advantage on the Saints midway through the third quarter, then went on to secure a 38-17 victory in AT&T Stadium.
After Brees torched Cowboys defenders last season for 392 yards and four TDs, Romo, who still isn’t all the way back after offseason back surgery, returned the favor by going 22-of-29 for 262 yards with three scores Sunday night. He compiled a passer rating of 137.4.
Murray had a satisfying night as well. He shredded the Saints for 149 yards on 24 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, and ripped off touchdowns of 15 and 28 yards — the latter pushing the lead to 31-3 with 6:42 left in the third period.
This time, the Cowboys offense was relentless from the start. Romo led his team to three touchdowns and a field goal on its five first-half possessions, while the Saints’ best opportunity for points ended when Shayne Graham missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt early in the second period when they trailed only 7-0.
The Cowboys’ touchdown drives covered 80, 39, 77 and 76 yards with Romo sandwiching scoring passes of 6 and 23 yards to Terrance Williams around Murray’s 15-yard TD blast through the heart of the Saints defense.
“You kind of forget that they’re the Saints — Sean Payton and Drew Brees — and you just go play,” Romo said. “You execute every play, no matter who the opponent is. When you do that, it makes the game very simple.”
On this night, it was almost too easy.
“Offensively, I thought we had good balance throughout the game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after his team had 255 passing yards and 190 rushing yards. “(The Saints) can be a challenging defensive scheme.
“We wanted to control the line of scrimmage. We had some long drives, some big plays within drives, and we scored a number of points against them.”
Romo certainly had a hot hand early, completing all seven of his pass attempts on the opening drive for 66 yards. He hit his first nine passes overall.
With the Saints trying to take Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant out of the game early with cornerback Keenan Lewis shadowing him on every play, Williams, tight end Jason Witten and Murray benefitted.
Williams caught two balls for 21 yards, Witten had two receptions for 25 yards, and Murray had an 11-yard run to give his team a first down at the Saints’ 5, which led to Williams’ first touchdown two plays later.
After a 51-yard field goal by Dan Bailey, the Cowboys took a step toward putting the game away early when Brees had a pass tipped by linebacker Bruce Carter and linebacker Justin Durant intercepted at the Saints’ 39.
Romo connected with running back Lance Dunbar for a 24-yard gain before Murray, who went on to notch his fourth 100-yard game of the season, had his 15-yard touchdown.
Even though the Saints trimmed the deficit to 31-17 early in the final period, the Cowboys were firmly in command, with Romo spreading the ball around and Murray attacking on the ground.
After Murray’s second score, Romo connected with Bryant, who caught three passes for 44 yards, for an 18-yard touchdown to finish off the Saints.
To be sure, it was a far cry from where they were in November in New Orleans.
“We’re a different team this year,” Romo said. “Not everyone knows all of (our) guys’ names, but they play hard and they play aggressive … as hard as I’ve ever seen. They’re committed to this on Wednesday and Thursday, and it shows up in the game.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.