BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nothing like nighttime in New Orleans to bring out a prolific performance from Drew Brees and the Saints.
Brees completed 34 of 41 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns, and the Saints beat the Dallas Cowboys 49-17 on Sunday night.
The Saints (7-2) had an NFL-record 40 first downs and a franchise-record 625 total yards in what marked their 12th straight prime-time victory in the Superdome. New Orleans had 242 yards rushing, its highest total since 1990.
“Spreading the ball around, getting everybody involved — these are the days you love to have,” Brees said. “You strive for efficiency both in the run and the pass game. We had that today.”
Brees’ touchdowns pass went for 52 yards to Kenny Stills, 22 yards to Marques Colston, 28 yards to Darren Sproles and a yard to Pierre Thomas.
Sproles also had a 3-yard touchdown run, and Mark Ingram added a 4-yard scoring run en route to a career-high 145 yards rushing on 14 carries.
“We just wanted to come out here on a national stage and just prove to everybody that we could play smash-mouth football and run the ball,” Ingram said. “I’ve been waiting for a 100-yard game since I got in the league. … The line just did a great job, just a fantastic job. They were just getting a hat on a hat, creating seems for us to run through. When they’re dominating the line of scrim like that it makes our job easy.”
Brees described Ingram as “a man on a mission today,” and it came at a good time. The Saints had lost two of their previous three and needed a victory to stay a game ahead of Carolina for first place in the NFC South.
DeMarco Murray had 82 yards rushing on 13 carries and a touchdown for Dallas (5-5), highlighted by his 35-yard scamper on a fake reverse. That set up his 7-yard scoring run that gave Dallas a short-lived 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. Dallas did not score again until Tony Romo’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams in the last minute of the third quarter.
The loss dropped Dallas into a tie with Philadelphia atop the NFC East.
Dallas was frustrated offensively for much of the game against a defense that has turned around dramatically under coordinator Rob Ryan, who was fired by the Cowboys after last season. Star receiver Dez Bryant, covered mostly by Keenan Lewis, did not have his first and only catch — a 44-yarder — until late in the third quarter. Jason Witten was held to two catches for 27 yards.
Romo was 10 of 24 for 128 yards and was sacked three times.
“We have to play better football than this in all facets. We have to figure out what we can do to be a better football team because that obviously was not good enough,” Romo said. “It was just difficult. They are a good team. Give them credit. They beat us today. It wasn’t a fun game.”
The Cowboys’ porous pass defense entered the game already having set an NFL record by allowing four quarterbacks to throw for more than 400 yards. Brees was on track to become the fifth, but fell just short after the Saints decided to stop throwing with a big lead in the fourth quarter.
At one point, Brees strung together 19 straight completions, tying his personal best and franchise record.
Making matters worse for Dallas was a hamstring injury to linebacker Sean Lee, the Cowboys’ leading tackler.
“There just were very few plays that we stopped. They were able to go to a lot of different things,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They ran the ball when they wanted to run it and Drew Brees did a fantastic job reading coverages and finding the right guy.”
Sproles, whose concussion a week earlier forced him to miss most of the Saints’ 26-20 road loss to the New York Jets, caught seven passes for 76 yards.
Getting Colston involved was another encouraging sign for the Saints a week after the veteran receiver sat out the loss to the Jets with a knee injury.
Colston had seven catches for 107 yards. His touchdown catch was the 60th of his career, all from Brees.
On Colston’s touchdown, Sproles made a key block on blitzing linebacker Barry Church, giving Brees enough time to throw over the middle. Colston then slipped safety Jeff Heath’s tackle before diving across the goal line.
For Sproles, the key block was the first of several highlights that atoned for an early muffed punt that gave the Cowboys the ball on the Saints 22 after a diving recovery by Dallas’ Dwayne Harris.
But with an energized nighttime crowd roaring, the Cowboys had to call timeout on third-and-short, then came back out an committed a false start penalty. Dallas was then unable to convert for a first down and settled for Dan Bailey’s 37-yard field goal.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org