10. Welcome to Dallas, Dan Connor. After a couple of huge special teams gaffes (his man blocked the punt in Seattle and he whiffed on the 108-yard kickoff return last week) polluted his early-season resume, Connor was shoved into duty Sunday in Charlotte when linebacker Sean Lee left with a toe injury. Result? Connor had a big stop of Cam Newton on a 3rd-down run. He had a positive impact at a time and place when the Cowboys desperately needed one.
9. On Friday we lost Big Tex. On Sunday we beat Big Mex (Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera is 6-foot-3, 235 pounds and of Mexican descent). Call it even?
8. Good day for Cowboys’ special teams for a change. Dan Bailey nails 4 field goals and kick coverage is led by sound, athletic tackles by Lance Dunbar and Eric Frampton. Small steps.
7. So the team’s inspirational speaker at Saturday night chapel in Charlotte was … a Redskin? Yep. Former Washington coach Joe Gibbs popped in to spin a few yarns about some of his memorable coaching mistakes, including the one where he tried to ice a kicker but instead drew a 15-yard penalty for calling the timeous back-to-back and thereby making the kick easier. Not an admission of guilt the Cowboys screwed things up last week in Baltimore … or is it?
6. The Cowboys won a football game without playing winning football. Leading 10-7 and driving, they had to settle for a field goal after a penalty on Doug Free and a drop by Jason Witten. They kept a Panthers’ drive alive and fell behind 14-13 because of penalties on Jay Ratliff and Brandon Carr. Tony Romo overthrew Miles Austin for an easy touchdown and later missed a wide open Witten down the seam. Dez Bryant – for the 3rd straight game – dropped a key pass he got both hands on. To say the least, the pathetic Panthers are very accommodating hosts.
5. I’m still uncomfortable with today’s NFL. As in, did you see DeMarcus Ware and Ratliff jawing with Carolina’s Steve Smith as the teams left the field for halftime? At the end of an animated exchange, Ware and Smith smiled and slapped hands. What the what?! Harvey Martin just rolled over in his grave.
4. Tony Romo won’t throw a prettier ball all year than his 26-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin. Perfect.
3. I’m not trying to throw a wet Snuggie on the win, but the more I analyze the more the Cowboys were lucky to leave Carolina with a win. Panthers’ linebacker James Anderson blatantly dropped a sure touchdown – went through his hands and off his facemask – early in the 4th quarter. The Cowboys got caught off guard on Carolina’s 4th-and-2 with 2:00 remaining, but were bailed out when Anthony Spencer called a timeout at the last second. On the next play cornerback Morris Claiborne clearly interfered with Panthers’ receiver Louis Murphy – on his back, grabbing his left arm with his left arm well before the ball arrived – but somehow escaped a flag. And, finally, to help Dallas run clock and add insurance points, the referees inexplicably called Anderson for a horse-collar tackle on Phillip Tanner. Anderson’s hand never got instead Tanner’s jersey or pads, instead merely – albeit violently – yanking him down by his neck.
2. You don’t have to admit you were scared, just don’t try to convince me you’re savvy. With a chance to be aggressive and go for a touchdown late, the Cowboys played more conservative than a Tea Party block leader and settled for a field goal to take the lead. And I’m fine with that. Really. Points on the board was priority No. 1. I do, however, have a problem with the explanation that somehow the Panthers’ defense dictated the passiveness. Nope. Look at the replay. I have. A dozen times. Trailing 14-13 the Cowboys faced 3rd-and-9 from Carolina’s 15 with 3:39 remaining. Garrett claims Carolina dropped 8 men in coverage, necessitating a running play to Phillip Tanner. But the Panthers didn’t drop 8. In fact, at pre-snap – with the play clock at :05 – they had 7 men in the box. They had a single safety, meaning 1-on-1 coverage out wide with receivers Dez Bryant and Dwayne Harris. Carolina rushed their 4 down linemen and, with a crowded line of scrimmage, limited Tanner to 5 yards. Dan Bailey kicked a 28-yard field goal, giving the Cowboys a 16-14 lead. Garrett trusted Bailey more than his offense. More than his quarterback. And it worked. It’s okay to be more scared than smart. And, for the record, I totally agree with Fox analyst Daryl Johnston, who responded to the conservative call thusly: “On a third and nine situation … um … you’re trying to catch ‘em … eh, I … it’s tough … to yo, keh … Kemny … Kenny … in this one.”
1. Best thing the Cowboys did on Sunday was – let’s be honest – to play the lowly Panthers. Against a lot of NFL opponents that kind of conservative game-planning and spotty execution gets Dallas nailed with a loss. And the sharp Cowboys fan realizes that the kind of game they played is not sustainable toward success. Is it better to play poorly and win than to play well and lose? Of course. The Cowboys aren’t good enough to be picky. Said owner Jerry Jones, “The win was beautiful to me. There wasn’t one thing ugly about it to me.”
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