After a victory over the Miami Dolphins last week in Tony Romo's first game back from injury, many folks out there wondered if the Dallas Cowboys could potentially make a run in the last month-and-a-half of the season and take over the NFC East. Those hopes came to an end Thanksgiving Day, as the Carolina Panthers' swarming defense picked off Romo three times in the first half and scored 17 points off those interceptions en route to a 33-14 win.
Dallas got the ball first in the game, and on their first third down of the game, Romo threw a pass over the middle into double coverage and safety Kurt Coleman stepped right in front to pick the ball off and take it back for the first of two pick-sixes in the first half. Not even a minute into the game, it was 7-0 Carolina.
After a punt on Dallas' second possession, Carolina drove the ball but the drive bogged down in Cowboys territory and they had to settle for a field goal. Dallas came right back and gained a first and goal situation, but the Panthers' stout defense held up and forced a field goal attempt to make it 10-3 in their favor.
It was a seven-point game until the 3:32 mark of the first half, when Carolina went on an offensive spurt that basically sealed the game. Graham Gano made a 43 yard field goal to make it 13-3 Panthers. On Dallas' ensuing possession, Romo threw his second pick-six of the day, as Luke Kuechly intercepted Romo on a pass intended for Jason Witten deep to the left and took the ball all the way back, eluding tacklers in Crazy Legs-fashion to score and make it 20-3 Panthers.
Before the half ended, Kuechly hauled in another interception. Carolina set up shop inside the Dallas five yard line, but they threw the ball three times to try and score, which is surprising for a team that runs the ball as well as they do and as frequently. They did get a field goal out of it and went into halftime with a 23-3 lead.
On the first drive of the second half, Carolina was pushed back by a penalty and a sack which lost 18 yards and kicked from the back of their end zone on a fourth and 40. Dallas got the ball back near midfield but once again could not move it far against a tough Carolina defense and had to settle for a field goal. Before the third quarter ended, there was finally an offensive touchdown, as Cam Newton led an 80-yard drive on 14 plays that took up half the quarter.
Newton took it the last four yards himself as he flipped over the defense into the end zone. Carolina now had a 30-6 lead. On the last play of the third quarter, the worst fears of the Cowboys players and coaches became real. As Romo was being sacked by Thomas Davis, he landed on his left collarbone, the part of his body whose injury he had just recovered from. Romo lied down on the field for several moments before finally getting up and heading to the locker room. At the start of the fourth, Matt Cassel came onto the field to relieve him.
Gano made his fourth field goal of the day in the fourth quarter to make it 33-6. Later in the quarter, with the outcome of the game all but decided, Dallas finally found the end zone. Cassel led a 16-play, 80 yard drive, capped off by a touchdown pass to Cole Beasley. Cassel then hooked up with Darren McFadden on the two point conversion to make it 33-14. From there, Carolina just bled out the clock and escaped Dallas with a solid win.
This makes back-to-back blowout losses for Dallas on Turkey Day, as they lost 33-10 to the Eagles on Thanksgiving last season.
This should all but end Dallas' hopes of winning the division. They are now 3-8 and likely not to have Romo for the rest of the season. They have little chance of catching up to the Giants anyway and to put Romo back in the lineup at all to try and catch up would be foolish. They need Romo to heal and be 100% for next season.
For the Panthers, they are now 11-0 and in first control in the NFC for the top seed. They have five games left, four of them in division. They go to New Orleans, then host Atlanta before going to New York to take on the Giants. They then go to Atlanta and then host Tampa Bay in Week 17. An undefeated regular season is not out of the question for this team.
Coming into this game as a quote-on-quote "underdog", the Panthers sure looked to be the dominant team. What did you expect when Dallas was placed as the betting favorite?