no.saintscowboys67.112918

New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) during the first half Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

As soon as the play was over, New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata was greeted by teammate Sheldon Rankins, who met him facemask-to-facemask while holding up three fingers.

Onyemata had just bulldozed Dallas left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo into quarterback Dak Prescott, causing Prescott to fumble and forcing the Cowboys to have to settle for a field goal at the end of the first half of Thursday's game in Arlington, Texas.

Rankins' three fingers represented Onyemata's three sacks — all in the first half — that were part of Thursday night's breakout performance for the third-year pro.

But if Onyemata could have things his way, he would trade the career night he had Thursday for a victory.

Instead, Onyemata will have to settle for the stellar stat line he posted in the Saints' 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

He finished the night with three sacks, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and the forced fumble.

The sacks were his first of the season.

He came into the game with just two sacks in his career, both coming a season ago.

"It's big personally, but I think about it more as a team, and it would have been better game-winning than all of that," Onyemata said.

While the night brought the end of the Saints' 10-game winning streak, it perhaps was the beginning of what is to come from the third-year pro out of the University of Manitoba. He's starting to find his groove after getting his first career last season when the Saints beat the Dolphins in London.

"He's been playing well for us," coach Sean Payton said. "He is really one of our starters. His performance was fantastic and encouraging. He and Sheldon (Rankins) both have done a good job in there."

Onyemata's big night was a key reason the Saints still had a chance to win the game. His third-down sack of Prescott on Dallas' opening possession forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal after driving to the 5-yard line.

Onyemata's second sack came one possession later. He completed his trifecta at the end of the first half, driving Su'a-Filo into Prescott to force a fumble (the Cowboys recovered). Dallas kicked a field goal the next play, once again having to settle for three points after getting inside the red zone.

Rankins held up three fingers as he greeted Onyemata in the backfield after that third sack.

Onyemata wasn't surprised by his performance — especially after he had close to getting sacks throughout the season.

"There were week-to-week scenarios where I get to quarterback and I'm 0.1 of a second off from when he throws the ball," Onyemata said.

Onyemata says he leans on the more heralded players up front like Cam Jordan and Alex Okafor and Rankins.

"A lot," Onyemata said. "You try to pick the minds of all the guys who have been here and see what they see. People see things differently, so you just work with them at getting better."

It was the second straight game the Saints gave the opposing quarterbacks fits. The team sacked Prescott seven times and now has recorded 13 sacks over the past two games.

They were just as effective against the run. Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL's leading rusher who was averaging 97.6 yards per game, was held to 76 yards on 23 carries. It was the 21st straight game the Saints haven't allowed an opposing back to go over 100 yards.

"We had good penetration and by and large we held up against the run," Payton said. "We had the big screen we gave up, but those guys battled up front. We did a god job of keeping the quarterback in the pocket and reducing what they do offensively."

The soft-spoken Onyemata knows one game doesn't make a career. He knows he has to continue doing what he's been doing.

"You can't just jump in and think it's going to be a breeze from now on," Onyemata said. "I still have to do the work during the week leading up the game. I have to understand what I'm going to get during the game. You have so many people trusting you to do your job. I just go there and play the game as possible and let the rest happen."

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.