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November 9, 2013

Cowboys, Saints aim to keep division pursuers at bay

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints have been wrestling with a bout of inconsistency lately.

The Dallas Cowboys can relate.

As they head into an eagerly anticipated matchup on Sunday night, the Saints (6-2) and Cowboys (5-4) have little margin for error if they want to maintain tenuous perches atop their divisions.

New Orleans is coming off a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets that marked the Saints’ second setback in three games, allowing their closest pursuer in the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers, to pull with one game.

“If we were able to put together a (late) drive and win that Jets game we would be sitting here 7-1 and saying we feel pretty good,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “We just didn’t get the job done. That part is disappointing. And then you kind of look at the stretch ahead and it doesn’t get easier. It is going to be extremely tough. It is almost like a new season begins.”

The Cowboys stumbled to three losses in their first five games, but have won three of their past four — good enough to give Dallas a one-game lead over Philadelphia in the NFC East.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s 2,553 yards passing through Week 9 ranks third in the NFC, and his chemistry with receiver Dez Bryant appears fine, regardless of any passionate exchanges they’ve had recently. Bryant is tied for third in the NFL in touchdowns receiving with eight.

However, Dallas’ defense ranks 31st against the pass, never good recipe for slowing down a record-setter like Brees. In addition, the Saints are unbeaten in the Superdome. Then there’s the subplot of Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan going against the club that fired him last season.

“It is going to be a tough scheme we are going against, a tough place to play, a tough offense on the other side,” Romo said. “But that is what makes the game great.”

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