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The Dallas Cowboys (2-3) face off against the Carolina Panthers (1-4) on Sunday, October 21.
Below is a story line about the game. I am using the plugin for Storify. If you have trouble loading the links, try this link.
Between 1960 and 1996, the Cowboys were seldom mediocre. The team had its ups and downs, but by 1996, the Cowboys had turned their fortunes around after two very bad years to end the 1980s.
Between 1991 and 1996, Dallas went 70-26 with a playoff record of 12-3. Everyone knows that three of those seasons ended in Super Bowl titles.
One of those three playoff losses, though, came against a team that did not play a single game until 1995. Of all teams to end a dynasty, it couldn’t be an expansion team in its second year.
But that’s what happened.
Nobody who even barely followed the Cowboys in 1996 can forget the many scandals. Michael Irvin missed five games because of drug charges, and it appeared as if he and offensive tackle Erik Williams were going to face even more severe problems when a woman accused them of raping her.
The charges didn’t stand, but the loss did. Once the Cowboys lost Irvin to a shoulder injury, the team was just never quite in the game. Meanwhile, Dallas could not stop the great Anthony Johnson, who ran for 104 yards on 26 carries.
(What do you mean you don’t remember Anthony Johnson? The Notre Dame fullback? Emerged from nowhere in 1996 before returning to obscurity after that?)
From Sports Illustrated:
The Carolina Panthers not only beat the scandal-scarred Super Bowl champion Cowboys on offense, defense and special teams at Ericsson Stadium, but they also showed more poise. However, the most stunning thing about Carolina’s 26-17 win in this NFC divisional playoff game was that it wasn’t so stunning. Dallas’s run for a fourth Super Bowl victory in five years ended in part because of drug suspensions and injuries but mostly because the Panthers were the setter team. Running back Anthony Johnson carried Carolina in crunch time when Smith couldn’t carry Dallas. Panther Kerry Collins was a better quarterback than Troy Aikman, who threw interceptions to kill the Cowboys’ last two drives. With a complex blitz package and a secondary that played tighter coverage than Dallas ever anticipated, the Carolina defense frustrated the Cowboys for the better part of 60 minutes.
Anyway, the franchise that was seldom mediocre has been anything but since then. Between 1997 and 2012, here are the numbers:
* Regular season record: 122-123
* Playoff record: 1-6
* One of those six teams: Carolina in 2003
I’ve heard someone try to argue that Carolina has “owned” the Cowboys, but that is certainly not true. While Dallas has fallen to the Panthers in two playoff games, Dallas has an overall record of 8-3 against Carolina, including wins in the last four.
Dallas 13, Carolina 7.
At that point, Carolina had already completed a 79-yard pass that would have been a touchdown, but it was called back due to a questionable offensive pass interference penalty. Steve Smith had struggled, but there was cause for great concern that Smith could make a big play at any given time.
Dallas held Carolina to a three-and-out, but the offense could not provide a cushion. Carolina got the ball back with 5:57 remaining in the game. On the second play of the drive, Jake Delhomme tried a slant pass to Smith, who stopped. Terence Newman made the pick and ran it in to extend the lead. With the two-point conversion, Dallas led 21-7. From there, the defense stepped up and held the Panthers, giving Dallas the win.
As a very general matter, the Dallas defense looked better than in previous weeks, especially in the second half. The Cowboys recorded three sacks and two interceptions. Two of those sacks came from rookie Victor Butler, who showed more quickness coming around the end than Anthony Spencer has. Mike Jenkins had the other pick, giving the Cowboys their first turnover of the season.
That said, the Cowboys missed a number of tackles yet again. Both Newman and Jenkins missed tackles in the first quarter, and Ken Hamlin completely whiffed trying to tackle Muhsin Muhammad on the play called back due to offensive pass interference.
Hard not to suggest that a training camp without tackling could be a culprit when the team tackles so poorly during the first three weeks of the season.
Marion Barber did not play, but looked as if Felix Jones might end up with more than 200 yards in total offense. He opened the game with a 20-yard reception, and his 40-yard run on the opening drive of the third quarter helped to set up the Cowboys first field goal. Jones injured his knee on the run, leaving Dallas with one back in Tashard Choice. Like he did late in 2008, Choice came through, gaining 82 yards on 19 carries.
The first half was an ugly one for Dallas. The Cowboys moved the ball to the Carolina 12 on the opening drive, but Romo was sacked on a second down play. Dallas could not get into better field goal range, and Nick Folk missed his first field goal of the season.
From that point on, it was a few good plays by Felix Jones, some passes to Jason Witten, and nothing else for the Dallas offense. With the game scoreless, Carolina drove the ball 90 yards to get into Dallas territory. Hamlin appeared to bite on an underneath route, leaving the middle of the field for tight end Dante Rosario, who caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme.
The Cowboys drove to the Carolina 1 on the first Dallas drive of the second half. Tashard Choice appeared to score on a dump-off pass from Romo, but the Panthers successfully challenged the play. The Cowboys could not push the ball in on third down. Dallas lined up for a fourth-down play, but third tight end John Phillips pushed the Cowboys back, and the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal.
After holding the Panthers to a three-and-out, the Cowboys drove the ball back to the red zone. Choice scored from five yards out, giving Dallas a lead that it did not relinquish.
The Cowboys (2-1) must now travel to Denver to take on the 3-0 Broncos on Sunday.
The Cowboys head into Monday night’s game with Carolina as heavy favorites. Most experts predict a Dallas win, and many think that Dallas will cover the 9.5-point spread.
The last time that Dallas faced Carolina was in week 16 of the 2007 season. The Cowboys’ 20-13 win over the Panthers helped Dallas to keep pace for home-field advantage in the 2007 playoffs (a big deal at the time). The last time the Cowboys hosted the Panthers was in 2003, when Dallas pulled off a 24-20 win that guaranteed that Dallas would finish with at least a .500 record. The win prompted Bill Parcells to note that nobody could call the Cowboys losers any more (of course, Dallas laid an egg in a playoff loss to the Panthers later that season…).
Dallas Morning News
All of the Dallas Morning News staff picked the Cowboys to win.
Rick Gosselin: Dallas
Tim Cowlishaw: Dallas
Kevin Sherrington: Dallas
Todd Archer: Dallas
David Moore: Dallas
The Star-Telegram staff went a little bit further and suggested scores for the game:
Charean Williams: Cowboys 31, Panthers 20
Jeff Caplan: Cowboys 31, Panthers 18
Jim Reeves: Cowboys 34, Panthers 17
Clarence E. Hill Jr.: Cowboys 28, Panthers 10
Randy Galloway: Cowboys 27, Panthers 14
Gil LeBreton: Cowboys 27, Panthers 17
Not quite a sweep, as Will Allen took the Panthers. The rest of the ESPN staff took Dallas.
Will Allen: Carolina
Mike Golic: Dallas
Merrill Hoge: Dallas
Ron Jaworski: Dallas
Chris Mortensen: Dallas
Adam Schefter: Dallas
Mark Schlereth: Dallas
Seth Wickersham: Dallas
Accuscore: Dallas 27, Carolina 21
Dallas won 66% of Accuscore’s simulations by an average score of 27-21.
The Cowboys are better off being a run first offense, even if Marion
Barber is hurt in Week 3. In simulations where Tony Romo has over 250
passing yards the Cowboys actually win 62 percent, less than they do
when he has under 250 yards. Dallas leads the league with 184 rushing
yards per game. For the Panthers to win they need to hold the Cowboys
to under 120 rushing yards. In these simulations, the Panthers win 46
percent, up from 32 overall. The Cowboys defense has no interceptions
this season. If Jake Delhomme has no more than 1 INT their chances
improve to 39 percent, but if he has 2+ INTs the Panthers chances drop
to just 13 percent.
The Cowboys would score more than 30 points for the third consecutive game if the Madden simulation is accurate.
Tony Romo bounced back from his error-filled Sunday night fiasco to
throw three touchdowns as the passing attack helps Dallas squash the
Jake Delhomme completed only 12 passes for 142 yards while adding
another interception to his ever-escalating total. Carolina’s ground
game looked strong, with Williams rushing for 102 yards and Steve Smith
taking an end-around 65 yards for a score, but it just wasn’t enough as
Carolina continues their slide toward the bottom of the power rankings.
Meanwhile, Felix Jones electrified fans with 55 yards rushing,
including a crazy touchdown that saw him reverse field then hurdle a
tackler for one of the more exciting five-yard scores in recent memory.
The Cowboys had their way in the WhatIfSports simulations, winning 76.1 percent of the games. Tony Romo only averaged 190.2 yards in these simulations, with 1.3 touchdowns and 1.1 interceptions per game.
My Guess (2-0 this season)
Last week, I predicted a three-point (17-14) Dallas loss, though for the wrong reasons.
I think that the Giants game will be fairly low scoring. The Giants
have tended to start better than the Cowboys, and given how slow the
Cowboys were during the first half against Tampa Bay, I suspect that
the Giants will take an early lead. Dallas will stay in the game but
will struggle keeping the New York offense off the field. The Cowboys
will come back, but this comeback will end up just short.
Dallas came back several times against the Giants, but it was not a matter of the Dallas comeback falling short. Instead, the Cowboys defense could not stop Eli Manning when it mattered.
The pressure is on Dallas this week, but I think they will come through. Tony Romo will get Roy Williams and Jason Witten involved early, and then the team can rely on its running backs. Even without Marion Barber, the Cowboys will control most of the game on the ground. Carolina will score a couple of late touchdowns to make the game look closer than it will actually be.
My score is (if you can’t see the image, click here):