NFL Nation: Panthers-Cowboys 092809

Tim Heitman/US Presswire
Tony Romo carefully guided the Cowboys to a victory over the Panthers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Meet Tony Romo, the bus-driver quarterback. It's a guy I thought we'd never see, but in a dud of a football game Monday night, it was exactly who the Dallas Cowboys needed.
Panthers-Cowboys Coverage
• Yasinskas: Five Observations on Panthers
• Mosley: A new Romo Emerges
• More: MNF HQ

A week after stinking up Jerry Jones' new joint with a three-interception performance against the New York Giants, Romo actually treasured the football. It's too early to call him a changed man, but his willingness to remain patient in a tight game was one of the main reasons the Cowboys escaped with a 21-7 win over the Carolina Panthers.

"I get frustrated and disappointed when I don't play up to what I think my standard is," Romo said following the game. "That's why I come back with a purpose and improve to get better. That was my sole focus this week was to understand why I did certain things, come out here and not make those mistakes again and improve as a quarterback and to help this team win."

Make no mistake. This wasn't the type of victory that puts the Cowboys in the Super Bowl conversation, but it's one they absolutely had to have. Romo finished 22-of-32 for 255 yards and no interceptions. Staying back in two-deep coverage for most of the game, the Panthers were determined to keep everything in front of them -- and Romo was happy to oblige.
Tim Heitman/US Presswire
The Cowboys did a good job of keeping Jake Delhomme off his game.

Playing against a winless Panthers team that was understaffed on defense, the Cowboys' offense didn't score in the first half. It was the first time Dallas had been held scoreless in the first half since Nov. 19, 2006 against the Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys put themselves in huge holes with holding and tripping penalties in the second quarter. The old Romo (from Week 2) may have become impatient and tried to force the ball downfield. Instead, he took his medicine and waited until the second half.
"I thought Romo really was determined to be smart, relative to turnovers and was taking what was given to him," Jerry Jones said.

It was odd to hear Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips talk about how Romo "managed" the game so well, but that's exactly what happened. When Felix Jones went down with a knee injury in the second half, Romo fed the ball to Tashard Choice. The Cowboys have now posted back-to-back 200-yard rushing games for the first time since 1979, which is pretty stunning when you consider that Emmitt Smith hung around here for a few years.

Late in the third quarter, Romo finally made a couple of big plays. On third-and-11, he found Patrick Crayton in the middle of the field for a 12-yard completion. Then on third-and-8, he pulled out one of his vintage school-yard plays. After being flushed out of the pocket to the right, he spotted Choice all alone on the left side of the field and lobbed the ball back to him for a 9-yard gain. It was the type of improvised play that makes Romo a unique talent. But it was a rare sight Monday.
Romo By Distance Needed For First Down
-- 0-9 10+ yards
Comp-Att 8-15 14-18
Yards 95 160
Passer rating 72.9 103.7

This version of Romo will take some getting used to. We've become so accustomed to the drama of watching him dig himself out of trouble that his performance Monday seemed positively boring. The Cowboys will still need him to win games in the future, but it's good to know he's capable of simply staying out of his own way. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has brought more balance to this offense through three games, although the back-to-back fade routes from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter made little sense.

Romo rescued this franchise from a long line of nondescript quarterbacks in 2006, but Bill Parcells warned us that there would be bumps in the road. Those bumps have appeared the last three Decembers and they were certainly evident in the Week 2 loss to the Giants. The Panthers' defensive game plan was built around the notion that Romo would eventually become impatient and make a poor decision. It never happened.

"They're kind of waiting on you to make mistakes," Romo said. "We didn't make any mistakes and that's why we were able to win the game tonight. They thrive off that stuff and I was happy to see our team play that kind of ball, and I thought that was important."

Other thoughts on Dallas' victory:
  • Roy Williams said he dropped Romo's first fade pass in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. It looked like Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall broke up the pass, but Williams said, "I put that on me. It was a drop on my behalf. It was close." Marshall and Williams had a running dialogue throughout the game, and it didn't always look friendly: "He's terrible," Williams said of Marshall. "Print that."
  • Phillips didn't have much information on Felix Jones' left knee strain. Jones returned to the game for one play but then limped off again. He was by far the most explosive player on the field Monday night and the Cowboys need him to stay healthy. I thought Jones did an outstanding job of seeing the holes and bouncing outside. Once he's past the line of scrimmage, he's nearly impossible to catch. It's a luxury for the Cowboys to have three backs, all of whom could start for a lot of NFL teams.
  • Here's what Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith had to say about the Terence Newman interception that iced the game for the Cowboys: "Jake [Delhomme] was expecting me to cross his face. I should have crossed his face and I didn't cross his face. I put Jake in a bad situation. I second-guessed my route and I shouldn't have. The bottom line is that I screwed Jake. I am a firm believer in calling a spade a spade."The Cowboys did a nice job of rolling their coverage to Smith's side. They almost always had a safety over the top to prevent him from making a big play. Smith had been faking the slant and trying to work outside quite a bit during the game. On the interception, he simply stayed outside. It's alarming to think of how many interceptions Delhomme is going to end up with at the end of this season.
  • Rookie outside linebacker Victor Butler is going to help this pass rush. Late in the game, Butler had two sacks and a forced fumble. He could give this defense a much-needed boost. DeMarcus Ware is relentless, but he needs to rest every now and then. Butler is a high-motor guy who has a knack for getting to the quarterback.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


For only the third time in their history, the Carolina Panthers have started the season 0-3. The 21-7 loss to Dallas puts Carolina in jeopardy of having its season spiral out of control. The last time the Panthers started 0-3 was 1998 and coach Dom Capers was fired at the end of that season.

Here are five things I took from the Carolina game:

Panthers-Cowboys Coverage
Yasinskas: Five Observations On Panthers
Mosley: A New Romo Emerges
More: MNF HQ
The seat John Fox sat in as he got on the team plane was sizzling. Fox has done a lot for the franchise, but he’s never been able to deliver back-to-back winning seasons. Patience, from fans and ownership, is wearing thin. Fox has been able to use coordinators as scapegoats in the past and he got a freebie on the 2007 season when Jake Delhomme went down early. But, this time around, Fox has his quarterback and his kind of team. There’s no excuse now.

Delhomme is not the problem. Yes, Delhomme threw two interceptions, but he had his team in the game. This wasn’t like the opener, a game in which he had to be yanked because of turnovers. Delhomme put his team in position to win if some plays were made elsewhere. They weren’t. The Panthers weren’t able to get their running game going and Delhomme’s interceptions might have been the fault of the receivers.

Didn’t the Panthers used to be a “tough’’ team? Yes, put that’s past tense now. The Cowboys ran for more than 200 yards. You’re not supposed to be able to do that against a Fox defense, but this no longer is a Fox defense. Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu went down with an injury on the first day of camp and the Panthers didn’t have anyone to replace him. They still don’t.

Thomas Davis is the guy I feel sorry for. The guy made plays against the Cowboys and he made plays in the first two games. The fifth-year linebacker is having a Pro Bowl year. But he’s not going to get the kind of recognition he deserves if the Panthers keep losing.

I find it ironic that Julius Peppers’ nickname is “Pep’’. The guy wasn’t a source of energy Monday night. Instead, Peppers, who makes more than $1 million a game, produced two tackles, but not a single big play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- After a dreadful first half, the Cowboys finally did enough to separate themselves from one of the worst teams the NFC South has to offer. Both teams slopped around in the first half but the Panthers caught fire on consecutive passes to tight end Dante Rosario, the second one going for a 25-yard touchdown.

The Cowboys found a sense of urgency in the third quarter, taking a 10-7 lead on Tashard Choice's 5-yard touchdown run. A week removed from one of the worst performances of his career, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo did a relatively nice job of managing the team. He wasn't called on to make a lot of plays, though his school-yard toss to Choice on third-and-8 late in the third quarter kept a scoring drive alive.

The Cowboys desperately needed a win Monday, but they certainly won't get any style points for this one. They let a bad team hang around until the last five minutes and it took way too long for the offense to find any rhythm. The most positive sign for the Cowboys is that the defense finally caused a couple of turnovers.

Second-year cornerback Mike Jenkins picked off an awful pass by Jake Delhomme in the first half and Terence Newman put the game away with a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys came into the game as the only team in the league without a sack or caused turnover. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff finally got the Cowboys' first sack in the second half and the Cowboys did a nice job of putting pressure on Delhomme.

Panthers coach John Fox helped the Cowboys out by abandoning the running game when his team was only down 10-7. It was a curious move against a defense that allowed 174 rushing yards by the Bucs two weeks ago. It's still early in the season, but it's hard to imagine the Panthers having a turnaround. They were missing two starters on defense and the Cowboys' offensive line finally started to wear them down in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys will take the win, but they obviously have a lot of things to work on. What was Jason Garrett thinking when the Cowboys had second-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter? He had Tony Romo throw consecutive passes into the corner of the end zone. And it's not like the Panthers had slowed down Choice and Felix Jones.

Jones left the game with a knee strain in the third quarter. He returned briefly, but then limped off the field. It's certainly something you worry about with a player who missed a lot of the 2008 season with toe and hamstring injuries.

Cowboys' Choice taking over

September, 28, 2009
9/28/09
11:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- If the Cowboys hold on to win this game, remember that last catch and run by Tashard Choice. He ran through the arm tackle of Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on third-and-8 to keep this drive alive. With Felix Jones nursing an injured knee, Choice pretty much took over the game.

Kudos to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett for realizing that he didn't have to put this game in Tony Romo's hands. Just the get the ball in the hands of Jones and Choice and let them do the heavy lifting. That was a really nice school-yard play by Romo when he escaped pressure and then threw it back across the field to Choice.

And right as I'm praising Garrett, he calls for passes twice from the 1-yard line and the Cowboys have to settle for a field goal. Choice gained three yards on first down to the 1-yard line. Why in the world did the Cowboys not hand the ball to Choice?

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- I'm sorry you guys had to watch that first half. The Cowboys had a chance to come out and score right away, but they stalled in the red zone on their first possession. You had Felix Jones shredding the Panthers defense -- and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett inexplicably went away from him. Nick Folk missed a 40-yard field goal wide right and the Cowboys never really recovered. Here are some other quick-hit observations:
  • I'm really impressed with the work left tackle Jordan Gross is doing on DeMarcus Ware. And I'm baffled by how seldom the Cowboys are matching up Ware against right tackle Jeff Otah. They finally flipped him over to Otah's side in the second quarter.
  • The Cowboys finally got a turnover in the first half. Mike Jenkins made a play on a moon ball from Jake Delhomme. But the Cowboys didn't capitalize on the turnover.
  • When the Cowboys backup nose tackle Junior Siavii is on the field, he's getting absolutely no push up the middle. Delhomme didn't see any pressure on those two nice passes to Dante Rosario. When Jay Ratliff's off the field, I think the Cowboys lose a lot.
  • I was very impressed with the way Keith Brooking played in the first half. He did a nice job fighting off blocks and he's pretty solid in coverage. It looks like Brooking and Bradie James are doing a pretty nice job communicating. I think Brooking is a definite upgrade over Zach Thomas.
  • Jason Witten had a big first half. He was Tony Romo's target on eight passes -- and he caught all eight. He has 71 yards receiving. The Cowboys wide receivers combined for two catches in the first half. That's not going to get it done.
  • The Panthers obviously have a tough time stopping Felix Jones. So why aren't they feeding him the ball?

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Just when you thought Jake Delhomme didn't have an arm, he completed two gorgeous passes in a row to tight end Dante Rosario. Cowboys inside linebacker Bradie James had decent coverage on Rosario on the first pass, but Delhomme dropped it in the perfect spot. That play went for 25 yards.

On the next play, Dawson beat rookie cornerback Mike Jenkins for a 25-yard touchdown. It was a brutal half for both teams, but the Panthers suddenly came alive late. This just in from ESPN Stats and Analysis: The last time the Cowboys were shut out in the first half was Nov. 19, 2006, against the Colts. The Cowboys won that game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Panthers are going with a lot of short sideline passes to offset the Cowboys' pass rush. Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware keeps trying to beat left tackle Jordan Gross with an outside speed rush, but Gross is doing a pretty good job pushing him wide.

I'm pretty impressed with the way Gross is staying in front of Ware. Seems like the Cowboys would be better off lining up Ware over right tackle Jeff Otah.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Both of these teams are supposed to be desperate for a win? It certainly doesn't look like it right now. The Cowboys have had some success with Felix Jones on the ground, but they keep mixing in the pass for no apparent reason. That has led to two sacks and a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage.

Tashard Choice hasn't been really decisive at the line of scrimmage. He's missing holes that are developing outside. And for all the folks who want Tony Romo to take off running, take a look at the play with 13:15 left in the second quarter. You don't want him taking off very often. He just doesn't do a great job protecting the ball. Fortunately for the Cowboys, the Panthers are biting on pretty much every play fake. Really nice play by Patrick Crayton to escape cornerback Richard Marshall and get some extra yards. The Panthers don't tackle very well because they're always going for the strip.

Cowboys stuffed in the red zone

September, 28, 2009
9/28/09
9:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cowboys raced the ball down the field thanks to running back Felix Jones on their opening possession, but they were turned away in the red zone. On the sack by Thomas Davis, Romo appeared to be waiting for a receiver to make an adjustment on his route. It never happened and Romo was slung to the ground.

Nick Folk is usually automatic from 40 yards out, but he missed wide right. To me, it looked like he never followed through on the kick. Now the Panthers are driving. The vaunted Cowboys pass-rush is still missing in action at this point. The Panthers are going with some quick-hitting routes along the sideline to counter the Cowboys' speed. And the Cowboys are once again having a difficult time making tackles. I've counted about 14 yards after contact so far.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made the decision to close the roof this evening, so it should be a little louder than it was against the Giants last Sunday night. As we speak, the folks from Guiness World records are certifying that the Cowboys indeed have the largest electric video board in the world.

I've been watching the Panthers' punter, Jason Baker, warming up. He definitely has a big enough leg to boot the ball into the scoreboard. We'll keep our eye on that situation.

Felix Jones will get the start tonight ahead of Tashard Choice. There was some thought that Choice might start and be relieved by Jones. I don't think the Cowboys will let Jones get more than 20 carries.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


We already know the Carolina Panthers face a must-win game tonight against Dallas.

Panthers-Cowboys Coverage
Yasinskas: Must win for Panthers
Mosley: Garrett better get money's worth
Scouts Inc.: 10 observations
More: MNF HQ
So what happens if they don’t win? Well, just about everything in Carolina probably will tumble.

The process may already have started when Mark and Jon Richardson resigned as team presidents just before the season opened. New team president Danny Morrison will get his first in-person look at the Panthers tonight.

Morrison’s going to play a big part in the future of this franchise, but I’d be more interested in hearing what’s going through the mind of owner Jerry Richardson if the Panthers lose to the Cowboys. It would be the first time the Panthers have started 0-3 since 1998. That’s the year the Panthers lost their first seven games and finished 4-12.

That season cost coach Dom Capers his job, just two seasons after he took the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game. Current coach John Fox has done a lot for this franchise and there’s still time to turn it around.

But Fox never has had back-to-back winning seasons and Richardson is painfully aware of that. A loss tonight greatly diminishes the chances of the Panthers making the playoffs or having a winning season. That would increase the chances of Fox losing his job.

Does it end there?

Probably not. Fox and general manager Marty Hurney have been a package deal throughout their time together in Carolina. If Fox goes, Hurney probably goes, too. But that’s not quite as automatic as many might think. Hurney has a strong relationship with Richardson. Hurney survived the George Seifert regime and could survive this.

Richardson basically let Hurney hire Fox. He might let Hurney make the next hire.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Cowboys coach Wade Phillips didn't provide any further details regarding Marion Barber's left quadriceps injury, but as we reported Friday, it's unlikely he'll play against the Panthers on Monday. Meanwhile, Carolina will be without starting linebacker Na'il Diggs (rib), who missed his third straight practice Saturday.

The Panthers will also be without fullback Brad Hoover, strong safety Chris Harris and defensive end Everette Brown. I think Harris' injury is the most worrisome to coach John Fox. He's one of the smartest players on the team and he would've been responsible for keeping track of the Cowboys' talented tight ends, Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. Obviously the Panthers will do everything they can to keep the Cowboys' offense off the field Monday. The best way to do that is to run the ball with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

The Cowboys were gashed in the running game by the Bucs for 174 yards in Week 1. Williams is one of those rare talents who can beat you inside or outside. The Cowboys have done a poor job on run blitzes at times. Players such as safety Ken Hamlin have to be under control when they blitz. Sometimes Hamlin comes too wide on the blitz, allowing big gains.

Everyone in the Cowboys' secondary has to do a better job of tackling this week. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh had a decent game. Everyone else really struggled. If you let Williams break a tackle, he's capable of taking it the distance on you. The Cowboys can't be quite as aggressive as they were in defending Brandon Jacobs last Sunday. Williams has a lot more wiggle, so you have to play under control.

I'm anxious to see the Steve Smith vs. Terence Newman battle. Smith burned Newman repeatedly in a 2003 playoff game, but Newman's come back and played well against Smith since then. I'm sure the Cowboys will roll coverage toward Smith in an effort to slow him down.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


For the better part of this decade, the Carolina Panthers have been a model of stability. In fact, they’re usually downright boring.
Walter G. Arce/Icon SMI
Julius Peppers has been very quiet so far this season.

In general, they don’t make dramatic personnel moves, their players don’t get into much trouble off the field and coach John Fox sets a tone that makes everyone in the organization leery of saying anything close to colorful to the media.

That’s why it’s more than a little ironic that the placid Panthers are on the verge of becoming a soap opera. They’re on the verge of drama that could get very ugly, very fast.

They’re walking into that new palace in Arlington, Texas on Monday night with an 0-2 record. If they come out of there 0-3, the days of stability in Carolina probably will come quickly to an end. It’s hard to draw an exact line for the point of no return, but I think 0-3 would be pretty accurate for this team.

Although the 1992 San Diego Chargers, with Fox as an assistant coach, did overcome an 0-4 start to make the playoffs, falling to 0-3 probably would be enough to put an unofficial end to Carolina’s season -- and a lot more.
Panthers-Cowboys Coverage
• Yasinskas: Must win for Panthers
• Mosley: Garrett better get money's worth
• Scouts Inc.: 10 observations
• More: MNF HQ


The Panthers came into this season with high expectations. They went 12-4 last year and despite a hugely disappointing home playoff loss to Arizona, they decided to sit still. They went through the offseason without bringing in any free agents, signed quarterback Jake Delhomme to a contract extension and bragged about how they were returning 21 of 22 starters.

There’s something to be said for continuity. But there’s also something to be said for recognizing weak spots and fixing them. That’s called progress.

The Panthers haven’t shown any progress this year. In fact, they seem to have taken a couple steps back in just about every way possible. Aside from receiver Steve Smith, there hasn’t been a bright spot.

Delhomme struggled mightily in the opener and defensive end Julius Peppers, who is collecting more than $1 million a game, has been pretty much invisible. The rest of the defense, which is supposed to be Fox’s bread and butter, has been bad.

That’s why the Panthers have to bounce back and win Monday night in Dallas. If they don’t, it’s all going to unravel. Owner Jerry Richardson isn’t showing a lot of patience these days. He ushered his sons out as team presidents just before the season ended.

Richardson likes Fox as a coach, but has been frustrated for several years with Fox’s inability to put together back-to-back winning seasons. Richardson’s let the flip-flopping success slide in the past. Like in 2007, when Delhomme went out early with an elbow injury. Fox got a free pass that time.

There are no free passes this time.

The Panthers have to win Monday night -- and go on and make the playoffs -- or else they’re going to suddenly be an interesting team to follow, for all the wrong reasons.

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