ARLINGTON, Texas — Maybe the Dallas Cowboys are onto something.
Behind rejuvenated quarterback Tony Romo and NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys dominated the New Orleans Saints 38-17 Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.
Dallas (3-1) won its third in row to move into a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East. The Saints, who came to Texas desperate for a win, fell to 1-3 after their sixth consecutive road defeat dating back to last season.
Romo was all point all the night, picking apart defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s unit with throws all over the field. Romo finished 22-for-29 for 262 yards and three touchdowns, two to second-year receiver Terrance Williams and another to receiver Dez Bryant.
Murray padded his rushing lead with 149 yards on 24 carries, his fourth consecutive game with triple-digit yardage. The fourth-year pro scored in all four games, and he has five touchdowns for the season after reaching the end zone twice against the Saints.
The Cowboys iced the victory on Murray’s 28-yard rumble in the third quarter that increased their lead to 31-3. And for the first time this season, Murray didn’t lose a fumble.
Dallas, at least a fourth of the way through the season, looks like
a potential contender in a wide-open division.
“I think what you find is we’re consistently doing the same things each week,” Romo said. “And in the past I don’t know if we were good enough to really do that.”
The 38 points were the most allowed by New Orleans since a 44-38 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the final game of 2012. The Saints beat the Cowboys 49-17 last season.
“We struggled offensively, defensively, kicking game, coaching,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “There’s not going to be much good to see on this film. We’re 1-3 right now, and that’s how we’re playing.”
While Romo and Murray racked up big numbers, the Dallas defense was just as impressive against the Saints’ normally potent attack.
“It starts with our defense,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s one of the best offenses in the National Football League over the last 10 years or so. They have a great coach, a great system, a Hall of Fame quarterback and a lot of weapons, and I thought our guys really hung in there.”
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees wasn’t able to stretch the field, instead settling for short throws and short gains in the first half. The Saints’ lack of a running game — Mark Ingram was out — didn’t help.
Brees completed 32 of 44 passes for 340 yards, the large majority coming in the second half. He threw for two touchdowns and was intercepted once. Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham made eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, but he lost a third-quarter fumble.
New Orleans turned the ball over three times, a fact Payton lamented.
“We’re not getting it and we’re giving it,” he said. “That’s a recipe for a loss.”
The Saints, who trailed 24-0 at halftime, got on the board when kicker Shayne Graham hit a 30-yard field goal early in the third quarter.
Brees threw both of his touchdown passes in the fourth, connecting with tight ends Josh Hill and Graham for scores. The latter scoring pass cut Dallas’ lead to 31-17.
“We had our chances in the second half, but at the end of this day, when you look at this game, the entire game, we got beat,” Brees said. “We got beat in every facet of it, and that’s the disappointing part.”
The Cowboys dominated the first half. Romo was nearly perfect, completing 17 of 22 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns to Williams. Murray added another 87 yards rushing, including a 15-yard score.
Romo came out slinging on the Cowboys’ first drive. He converted two third-down passes to tight end Jason Witten before finding Williams in the back of the end zone on a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Dallas upped its lead to 10-0 on kicker Dan Bailey’s 51-yard field goal with 5:38 left in the second quarter. The Cowboys forced a turnover of New Orleans’ subsequent possession to add to the lead.
Brees’ throw to receiver Robert Meachem was tipped by Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter and intercepted by linebacker Justin Durant. Two plays later, Murray was striding over the goal line for a 15-yard scoring run.
Romo and Williams connected again with 19 seconds left in the half on a 23-yard touchdown pass for a 24-point lead.
The Saints squandered their best scoring chance of the first half when Graham missed a 41-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter.
The Cowboys held the ball for nearly 18 minutes in the first half. Dallas nearly tripled the Saints in total yardage, enjoying a 290-106 edge. Brees had only 84 yards passing at the break.
The total yardage ended up close — a 445-438 edge for Dallas — and the Cowboys held the ball for nearly 35 of the 60 minutes.