Thanks to stifling defense, Saints move to 2-0 without Drew Brees

NEW ORLEANS -- So much for simply surviving without Drew Brees.

The New Orleans Saints are now improbably 2-0 without their starting quarterback -- and they unquestionably have their defense to thank for this one: a 12-10 victory over the previously undefeated Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

The Saints (3-1) still need more of a spark from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- and they need much more from their offensive line than they got on a night filled with sacks and penalties. But this victory proved why they were such a popular Super Bowl pick before the season and before Brees injured the thumb on his throwing hand: They have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL and can win in a variety of different ways.

Last week, coach Sean Payton got his first-ever win without Brees at quarterback at Seattle. This week, he got his first-ever win without a touchdown.

They’ll look to keep the streak going when they get to stay at home next week and host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I love it,” Saints safety Vonn Bell said of the idea that the defense stepped up and took the wheel in Brees’ absence -- thanks in large part to his two fumble recoveries. “Man, we said it, ‘Put the challenge on us. We’ll take that challenge.’

“That’s what we’ve been asking for, that’s what we’ve been looking for. We’ve been playing good football, but [we needed to put] four quarters together … and finish in a winning situation.”

The Saints forced three turnovers Sunday night, including an interception on Dallas’ futile Hail Mary attempt to end the game.

Cornerback Marshon Lattimore bounced back from a turbulent start to this season by silencing receiver Amari Cooper throughout the night. And the Saints held Ezekiel Elliott to just 35 rushing yards -- their 30th straight game without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

Pivotal plays: Bell gets the game ball for the Saints -- or, rather, he snatched it for himself with two huge fumble recoveries in the second quarter. The first came at the end of a 16-yard catch by Cowboys tight end Jason Witten when Saints linebacker A.J. Klein knocked the ball out of Witten’s grasp and Bell recovered. The second came when Dallas attempted a fourth-and-1 run by Elliott and Bell grabbed it out of his arms as he was going to the turf. Bell had his best season yet in 2018 -- and now he’s off to a good start again in an important contract year.

QB breakdown: Bridgewater did enough to win, completing 23 of 30 passes for 193 yards with one interception on a pass that bounced off the hands of Ted Ginn Jr. But he needs to prove he can push the ball down the field more. He and the rest of the offense need to be better than 0-for-4 in the red zone. And he had some poor clock management at the end of each half, including taking a sack that knocked New Orleans out of field goal range in the fourth quarter.

Troubling trend: The Saints are going to need better performances from their offensive line to keep surviving without Brees -- and to thrive when he comes back. The O-line allowed five sacks and was flagged for five holding penalties and a false start. This loaded unit is supposed to be the Saints’ driving force, with four starters who either were named second-team All-Pro or went to the Pro Bowl last season. But this is the second game in which the group practically sabotaged the offense instead (also at the Rams in Week 2).