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Banged-up Cowboys defense has no answer for Saints, yields record 40 first downs in 49-17 loss

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sits on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)The Associated Press

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    Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett watches from the sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)The Associated Press

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    New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) carries for a touchdown in front of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrickin the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)The Associated Press

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    New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) celebrates his touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)The Associated Press

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    Dallas Cowboys free safety Barry Church (42) dives to recover a kick in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)The Associated Press

Dallas safety Jeff Heath missed a tackle in the second quarter and watched New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas cruise into the end zone. That was one of the rare times when a Cowboys defender even came close to making a play.

A banged-up defense allowed the Saints to pile up an NFL-record 40 first downs and a franchise-high 625 total yards in a 49-17 rout Sunday night that dropped Dallas into a first-place tie with Philadelphia in the NFC East.

With defensive end DeMarcus Ware going off the field several times with a sore right quadriceps and middle linebacker Sean Lee leaving with a hamstring injury in the second quarter, the Cowboys had no chance against Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints' offense.

Ware, who has finished with at least 10 sacks for seven consecutive years, has none since Sept. 22 against St. Louis. Lee was tied for the NFL lead with 90 tackles entering Week 10.

"There just were very few plays that we stopped," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "They were able to go to a lot of different things. They ran the ball when they wanted to run it and Drew Brees did a fantastic job reading coverages and finding the right guy."

After punting on their opening possession, the Saints scored on consecutive touchdown drives of 80, 80, 52 and 75 yards to end the first half. They added a 92-yard touchdown drive on their second series of the third quarter. The next time they had the ball, rookie Kenny Stills outjumped cornerback Micah Pellerin for a 52-yard touchdown.

Brees was 34 of 41 for 392 yards and four touchdowns, tying a personal best with 19 straight completions during the first half.

Saints running back Mark Ingram, who entered with a 2.4-yard average per carry and was booed after dropping a pass in the first quarter, finished with 145 yards on 14 carries — the first 100-yard game in his three-year career.

"We knew right now with our personnel on defense we were going to have to outscore them," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said.

Instead, Tony Romo threw for a season-low 128 yards, Dez Bryant went nearly three quarters without a catch and Dallas was frustrated throughout. The Cowboys failed to convert any of their nine third downs against the Saints and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, fired by Dallas at the end of last season.

"We have to play better football than this in all facets," Romo said. "We have to figure out what we can do because that obviously was not good enough."

DeMarco Murray had 89 yards rushing and a touchdown on 16 carries for Dallas (5-5), highlighted by his 35-yard scamper on a fake reverse. That set up his 7-yard scoring run, which gave the Cowboys a short-lived 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Dallas did not score again until Romo's 21-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams in the last minute of the third.

The Cowboys had an early chance when Darren Sproles muffed a punt and Dwayne Harris dove to recover it at the New Orleans 22.

But with an energized prime-time crowd roaring in the Superdome, the Cowboys had to call timeout on third-and-short, then came back out an committed a false start penalty. Dallas was unable to convert for a first down and settled for Dan Bailey's 37-yard field goal.

Not much went right after that, with Bryant a virtual non-factor.

Last year, Bryant caught 12 passes for a career-high 224 yards in a 34-31 overtime loss to the Saints. This time, Romo never targeted him in the first half.

When Bryant caught his only pass — a juggling 44-yarder late in the third quarter — the Cowboys trailed 35-10.

"He's one of those players who teams double in a lot of different ways, and they did that in all our different formations and all our different personnel groups," Garrett said. "We didn't do a good enough job making them pay with the other guys who were getting isolated."

The Cowboys arrived in New Orleans with three wins in their previous four games, but faced a tough task in the Superdome, where the Saints have won 12 straight night games (including two in the playoffs).

"It was just difficult," Romo said. "They are a good team. Give them credit. They beat us today. It wasn't a fun game."

NOTES: Bryant has gone without a catch only once in his career — against New Orleans as a rookie in 2010. . Garrett said Lee would have an MRI on his hamstring Monday to determine the extent of his injury. ... Cowboys LB Justin Durant left the game with a hamstring pull. ... The Saints broke the first downs record of 39 for a regulation game set by the Jets against Miami on Nov. 27, 1988.