NEW ORLEANS — When the sun goes down and the lights go on in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense becomes something incomparable.
It has been like this for almost half a decade now.
Sunday night, against the Dallas Cowboys, it was no different.
Brees guided the Saints to four consecutive touchdown drives to end the first half, missed only four passes and helped New Orleans outgain the Cowboys 3-to-1 in yards in the opening 30 minutes.
New Orleans cruised for the 12th consecutive prime-time home game, including playoffs, beating Dallas 49-17. The streak started in 2009 after the Cowboys ended New Orleans’ unbeaten 13-0 start.
Brees finished the game 34 of 41 for 392 yards, four touchdowns and a sterling 139.0 rating. He hit nine different receivers, including seven to Darren Sproles (76 yards, one touchdown), seven to Marques Colston (107 yards one touchdown) and seven to Pierre Thomas (24 yards, one touchdown.
More impressive – the Saints did it with a potent ground game, led by Mark Ingram’s career-best 145-yard performance. In all, the Saints ran for 244 yards, the most on the ground since Sean Payton took over as head coach.
Oh, and the offense was historically efficient, tying an NFL record with 39 first downs as New Orleans went 9 of 12 on third down.
And that’s just the offense.
It’s hard to imagine Rob Ryan, New Orleans’ defensive coordinator, wasn’t harboring any ill will towards the franchise that fired him in January.
It took nearly 45 minutes for Dallas to surpass 200 total yards and Ryan, as understated as he has been this season, likely was happy after the game when he saw that the Cowboys went 0-for-9 on third down. By the end of the game, Dallas had 193 yards thanks to sacks.
Other than DeMarco Murray’s 89-yard performance, New Orleans kept the potent Cowboys’ offense in check. Quarterback Tony Romo went 10 of 24 for 128 yards and dynamic receiver Dez Bryant had just once reception for 44 yards.
The Saints forced a three-and-out on the initial Dallas drive, but a fumble by Darren Sproles, recovered by the Dallas’ Dwayne Harris, put the Cowboys in position for a score right away at New Orleans’ 22. The Saints’ defense again gave no ground and Dallas settled for a 37-yard Dan Bailey field goal.
New Orleans answered immediately, driving nine plays and 80 yards on the backs of Pierre Thomas and Marques Colston. Thomas ran four times for 22 yards while Colston caught three passes for 49 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass that gave the Saints a 7-3 lead.
Dallas then turned to running back DeMarco Murray, handing him the ball six times in eight plays. He returned the favor, gashing the Saints’ defense for 67 yards, the final seven getting him into the end zone. New Orleans trailed once again, this time 10-7.
Back came the Saints and on third-and-goal at the 1, Brees faked a handoff up the middle, turned and delivered a pass to Thomas, who ran in for the score. With 5:09 to play, the Saints led 14-10.
New Orleans extended the lead to 21-10 a series later, converting another third-down for a touchdown, this time a three-yard run by Darren Sproles.
The Saints’ defensive forced their third three-and-out of the game and the Saints took back over with 53 seconds to go in the opening half. They needed only 48. Brees hit Sproles for a 28-yard touchdown on a screen pass and the Saints took a 28-10 lead into halftime.
To that point, Brees was 26 of 30 for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
After Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yard field goal, Ingram punched in his first touchdown of the season, a four-yard run that gave New Orleans a 35-10 lead.
Dallas, however, finally found life.
First, the Cowboys drove 80 yards in five plays, cutting into New Orleans’ lead 35-17 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Terrance Williams.
The ensuing kickoff was an onside kick, recovered by Dallas’ Cameron Lawrence. But New Orleans’ defense, like it had done for much of the night, didn’t allow an inch and, in fact, backed up the Cowboys 11 yards.
The knockout punch came immediately after when Brees hit Kenny Stills for a 52-yard touchdown. Pierre Thomas’ touchdown run with 5:27 to play sent fans streaming out of the building.