The New Orleans Saints' defense knows with Drew Brees standing on the sideline, thumb wrapped, it's on it to carry the team to victories.
So it was Sunday night, with the Saints' D holding the previously explosive Dallas Cowboys offense in check in a 12-10 victory. New Orleans gave up 257 total yards to a squad that came in averaging 481.3 through three weeks.
"We put that on our shoulders," linebacker A.J. Klein said about finding ways to win with Brees on the sideline, via NOLA.com. "We embraced the challenge."
On Sunday night they dominated that challenge, holding the Cowboys to their fewest rush yards (45) in a game since Week 2, 2017. The Saints' defensive backs smothered Amari Cooper and Co., keeping Dak Prescott to his lowest passer rating (73.2) since Week 15, 2018, and just 223 pass yards, after he'd averaged more than 300 for the first three weeks.
With neither offense lighting up the scoreboard, Sunday night's affair was a defensive slugfest.
"That type of game right there is like (Muhammad) Ali vs. (Joe) Frazier," linebacker Demario Davis said, via The Athletic. "Two heavyweights. It's a slugfest. They're dishing out their hits, we're dishing out our hits. Last man standing at the end of the day, that's the type of mentality we came in with, knowing we're going to have to keep swinging until the clock strikes zero."
The Saints were the last man standing Sunday night despite not scoring a TD. It marked the first game under head coach Sean Payton that the Saints have won a game without scoring a touchdown. It was also the first game the Saints as a franchise won without scoring a touchdown since Week 8, 1998 (W, 9-3 vs. TB).
"We scored four times," defensive end Cam Jordan said, shrugging. "It just happened to be field goals. We've got to make that work."
With a smothering back end led by Marshon Lattimore, Vonn Bell, and Marcus Williams, a domineering rush highlighted by Jordan and Marcus Davenport, and Davis in the middle cleaning up, the Saints have the horses for the defense to carry them until Brees returns.
Victories in Seattle and against Dallas sans the HOF QB were massive to get New Orleans to 3-1, atop a winnable NFC South. With tilts against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at Jacksonville Jaguars, and at Chicago Bears on tap, the defense will need to continue to carry Payton's squad.
"Winning the turnover ratio, that was a key to victory," Payton said of Sunday's two-turnover performance. "Winning the rushing battle, that was a key to victory. You win both of those, you have a really good chance of winning the game. I thought both of those were important stats."
They will continue to be at least until Brees is back.