Saints dominate Dallas with dynamite defense

Last week, an irritated Mike Ditka demanded aggressive play from his defense.

His New Orleans Saints delivered Sunday, channeling their aggression at the Dallas Cowboys in record fashion.

The Saints held Dallas to eight yards rushing - the lowest single-game total in Cowboys history - and disrupted Troy Aikman all day in a stunning 22-3 win before a sold-out Louisiana Superdome crowd of 65,065.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak for New Orleans (6-7) and kept the team in the hunt for an NFC playoff berth.

The Saints' defensive performance, which included a safety, six rushing yards for Emmitt Smith and two sacks of Aikman (he'd been sacked just three times this season), stirred some serious memories for Ditka, whose 1985 Chicago Bears won a Super Bowl thanks one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.

"This is the best defensive game I've seen in a long time," Ditka said. "You've got to take me back to the '80s. This was the best I've seen."

Ditka's feelings were in stark contrast to his comments from last week in Miami following the Dolphins' 30-10 win, when he called his team "pathetic" while chastising his defense for passive play.

"As disappointed as I was a week ago," Ditka said, "I'm very proud."

Ditka's criticism struck a chord with his defense, which entered the game ranked 27th in the league and having allowed 30 or more points in seven of the last nine games. In dominating Dallas, the Saints extended a streak of quarters without allowing a touchdown in the Superdome to 13.

"We really kind of took that personally," said Saints defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, whose two sacks gave him a team-high 10.

Using a version of the Bears' famed '46' defense for the first time this season, the Saints wasted no time telling Dallas that this would be a different day.

On the game's first play from scrimmage, linebacker Mark Fields threw Smith for a four-yard loss. On the next play, Glover's heavy rush forced Aikman to backpedal into his end zone, where he unloaded a pass to avoid the sack. But Aikman was called for intentional grounding, giving the Saints a safety and a 2-0 lead.

Saints quarterback Kerry Collins allowed Dallas (8-5) to take the lead late in the first quarter when he was intercepted by Kevin Mathis at the Saints' 16. The Saints' defense held tough, though, and Dallas settled for a 33-yard Richie Cunningham field goal for a 3-2 lead.

Collins then led an 80-yard drive that consumed eight minutes and 19 seconds and put the Saints in front for good. Collins completed all four passes he attempted on the drive, including a 4-yard pass to Aaron Craver for a touchdown and a 9-3 Saints lead.

While the defense was holding Dallas to just six first downs over the first three quarters, Collins and the Saints padded their lead.

On a third-and-2 play from the Saints' 11 just after the two-minute warning, Collins tossed a pass to Andre Hastings, who caught the ball in stride and sprinted down the sideline for an 89-yard touchdown play.

After a Dallas punt, the Saints used the final 1:06 to drive 20 yards to the Dallas 35, where Doug Brien booted a 53-yard field goal for a 19-3 Saints halftime lead.

On the first drive of the second half, Collins completed third-down passes of 19 and 24 yards to Eric Guliford, setting up another 53-yard Brien field goal which gave New Orleans a 22-3 advantage.

The Saints' defense handled it from there. Dallas picked up 79 of their 182 offensive yards on a meaningless fourth-quarter drive, which ended with the Cowboys failing to score despite attempting eight plays from inside the Saints 10.

"We got the dog beat out of us," Dallas coach Chan Gailey said. "They played well. We didn't play very well. We've got a lot of work to do."