Maybe the New Orleans Saints started smelling the Carolina Panthers breathing down their neck in the tightened NFC South race.

Maybe the Saints grew tired of the sloppy outings in their past three games, which led to two losses.

Whatever it was, the Saints looked more like a dominant team than maybe it has all season with a 49-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints maintain a one-game lead in the NFC South over Carolina, which beat San Francisco earlier Sunday.

Case in point, the sequence near the end of the first half.

The Saints quickly marched down the field late in the second quarter as Darren Sproles capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown scamper. The defense suffocated the Cowboys on the following drive, forcing a three-and-out and giving Drew Brees and his gang of weapons the football back with 53 seconds remaining.

So in vintage Saints (7-2) fashion, Brees hit four receivers on the drive and Sproles dazzled the sold-out crowd and national TV audience. Sproles took a screen pass and burst through defenders for a 28-yard scoring play to push the Saints ahead 28-10 with five seconds left.

The Saints possessed all three timeouts entering the drive. They only needed to take two of them.