Daily Archives: October 21st, 2012

MILESTONE: The Boys Are Back blog reaches 100,000 hits!

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GAMEBALLS: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers

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Offense: Tony Romo

The numbers for Romo were fine, but I want to focus on his ability to take the different personnel groups that head coach Jason Garrett was using and making it all work.

Romo knew he was going to get some soft coverage on the outside, and with Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble out of the game, there were going to be some opportunities for him to make throws. In the first half, he was able to find tight end Jason Witten for some key catches, before turning around in the second half, and getting wideout Miles Austin going again after he had the fumble that led to Carolina’s points late in the second quarter.

What I think Romo has done a much better job of in his career is when one of his receivers makes a mistake, he gets that player going right back into the game. It’s a really nice trait to have.

Defense: Anthony Spencer

Anthony Spencer vs Carolina Panthers QB Fig Newton - The Boys Are Back blog

From my view both in the press box seat and on field level, it was a really nice game for Anthony Spencer. Without much work the last several weeks, he was able to shine when his teammates needed him the most. There was a lot talk over the offseason about whether the Cowboys had done the right thing by putting the franchise tag on Spencer, but today he proved that he was worth every penny that the front office is paying him. Spencer has always been known as a run stopper, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has told anyone who was willing to listen that Spencer was just as effective rushing the passer. Against Carolina, Spencer proved him right. For a team that has been struggling to finish out games, Spencer’s play was just what they needed. You can bet that Ryan is happy to have him back.

Special Teams: Punt Coverage Unit

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I could have selected Dan Bailey and the job he was able to do getting those field goals home, but you have to give Brian Moorman and this punt coverage team a ton of credit. Moorman was a master at directional punting today. In four opportunities, the Panthers managed only four total yards on returns. Moorman averaged 49.3 yards per punt with a net of 48.3. There were plenty of times where he was able to flip the field position, which forced the Panthers offense to take the ball a long way down the field. In a backup role, Moorman has more than done his job and was a big reason why the Cowboys were able to successfully win this game.

EGGSHELL OFFENSE–BOMBSHELL DEFENSE: Dallas Cowboys leave Carolina with crucial win

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the most pivotal sequence of the game, when the Cowboys took a late lead over the Panthers, it appeared head coach Jason Garrett was playing to not lose rather than to win.

Ultimately, though, that’s really all Sunday was about, and Garrett’s conservative decision to settle for a late field goal turned out to be the right call. The Cowboys defense did its job twice, and the visiting Dallas Cowboys left Carolina with a win, keeping this young season out of the ditch by advancing to 3-3, far more palatable than 2-4.

Facing a third-and-nine at the Carolina 15, Garrett elected to run the ball rather than force a pass, which the Panthers were loaded up to stop. While the call would’ve certainly been questioned had it backfired, the coach was sure it was the best decision at the time.

“They wanted to play big-time coverage there,” Garrett said. “We wanted to preserve the opportunity there to kick that field goal. … We felt like that was a good answer against the shell coverage, three-man rush they were going to do. If they had done something else, we would’ve been in something else.

Dan Bailey nailed the go-ahead kick from a manageable distance.

The season has had its ups and downs, but having played just two games at home and four on the road, the Cowboys are not in an awful position. They will have to play better than they did today to win big games ahead. That starts with next week’s rematch of their season-opening upset of the defending champion Giants, now 5-2 and atop the NFC East by 1.5 games.

If the Cowboys are to become a team with even the slightest shot at competing for a title, it’ll be through the kind of perseverance they showed Sunday. Things were less than perfect from the very beginning, when Bailey’s opening kickoff sailed out of bounds, but the defense kept the Panthers from establishing an early edge. Likewise, the Cowboys’ offense got only three first-half drives, going three-and-out once, settling for a field goal after an 18 play march another time, then losing the ball on a fumble, but the defense kept the game close.

The Panthers struggled to run the ball all day, save for quarterback Cam Newton, and he was forced into several mistakes of his own when attempting to pass, none more damning than a second quarter interception in the end zone by Morris Claiborne, amazingly the first pick by a Cowboys defensive back this season.

The Panthers led 7-3 at halftime, making Sunday’s game the 11th they have lost after leading through two quarters under second-year head coach Ron Rivera. Though the Panthers added another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had confidence in their defense to stop Newton late.

“We trust our defense immensely,” Garrett said.

On the Panthers’ ensuing possession, Newton appeared to extend the drive by converting a short fourth-down throw near midfield, but officials ruled Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had signaled a timeout first. When the teams lined up again, Newton’s pass was incomplete, cornerback Morris Claiborne appearing to get away with a physical defensive play on a pass to Louis Murphy.

The turn of events allowed the Cowboys to tack on another field goal, forcing Carolina to have to go the length of the field at the end. Though Newton appeared to have a shot on a deep ball to Brandon LaFell, the Cowboys defense prevailed.

“We feel like we always have pressure on us, no matter what the lead is, no matter if we’re down,” Claiborne said. “We have a lot of pride in what we do to go out and try to get stops.”

The defense will have to be at its best once again in seven days, needing a repeat of Sept. 5, when they limited Eli Manning and New York to just 17 points. They’ll need more help from the offense along the way, too, with a more sustained run game and better protection of the ball than was on display against the Panthers.

Though this team hasn’t yet been able to sustain momentum, they continue to build reasons for hope.

“I think each week you have to start fresh and work hard,” said Miles Austin, who was on the receiving end of the Cowboys’ only touchdown. “It’s going to be big. It’s obviously a huge week … they all are.”

LISTEN LIVE–RIGHT NOW: Dallas Cowboy’s postgame show on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network

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RIVAL HEADLINE: Carolina Panthers fall to the Dallas Cowboys 19-14

RIVAL HEADLINE - Carolina Panthers fall to the Cowboys 19-14 - The Boys Are Back blog

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers disappointing season took another bitter turn Sunday.

Dan Bailey kicked two late field goals to give Dallas a 19-14 victory over the Panthers in Bank of America Stadium, dropping Carolina to 1-5 with a trip to Chicago looming next week.

Trailing 16-14, the Panthers’ late attempt to drive for a winning score was thwarted twice on fourth down by the Cowboys.

Facing a fourth-and-two at their own 39-yard line, the Panthers appeared to get the first down on a completion from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen but officials nullified the play, saying the Cowboys had called timeout before it began.

After the timeout, Newton threw an incompletion to Louis Murphy who was hit by Dallas defender Morris Claiborne. Murphy and the Panthers thought it was pass interference but no call was made, turning the ball over to the Cowboys at the Carolina 39-yard line.

It led to a 38-yard Bailey field goal with 53 seconds remaining.

The Panthers got one more shot in the final 50 seconds but couldn’t get past midfield.

Cam Newton completed 20 of 36 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown. He also led the team with 61 rushing yards.

After a sluggish third quarter offensively, the Panthers found a spark late in the third quarter and turned it into a 75-yard drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown run by Mike Tolbert that put the Panthers ahead 14-13 with 11:38 remaining.

The Panthers started the drive with a no-huddle offense. Jonathan Stewart broke a 20-yard gain then Louis Murphy caught a 26-yard pass from Newton to move the Panthers to the Dallas 19-yard line.

Two penalties against the Cowboys, an unnecessary roughness and a holding call, helped the Panthers keep the drive alive.

The Cowboys took a 10-7 lead on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Miles Austin midway through the third quarter. Romo threw a beautiful pass to the back corner of the end zone where Austin was defended by Panthers rookie Josh Norman.

One play earlier, Austin and Romo had connected on a 36-yard pass to move the Cowboys into Carolina territory.

Romo completed 24 of 34 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown.

Dallas stretched its advantage to 13-7 on a 49-yard Dan Bailey field goal with 2:13 remaining in the third quarter.

After wasting some earlier opportunities, the Panthers got a five-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Brandon LaFell with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter to take a halftime 7-3 lead.

The possession started with a takeaway when Thomas Davis knocked the ball free from Cowboys receiver Thomas Davis and it was recovered by linebacker Luke Kuechly, giving the Panthers possession at the Dallas 20-yard line after an illegal block penalty against Charles Godfrey.

The Panthers squandered good field position in the first quarter, failing to score after starting their first two possessions at the 40 and 45-yard line, respectively.

The Cowboys used a grinding 18-play, 91-yard drive to take a 3-0 early in the second quarter on a Bailey field goal. Dallas chewed up 10 minutes, 10 seconds with the possession. The Cowboys converted four third-downs on the drive before stalling at the Carolina 1-yard line.

The Panthers finally mounted a drive of their own behind Newton’s running and throwing.

Newton had a 24-yard scramble on third down to keep the drive alive at the Dallas 30-yard line. Two plays later, Newton kept the ball on a designed play and rumbled 21 yards to the Cowboys’ 7-yard line.

But the drive died suddenly when Newton was intercepted in the end zone by Cowboys rookie Morris Claiborne. Newton was looking for receiver Louis Murphy in the end zone when he was hit as began his throw. The pass came up well short and Claiborne made a diving catch to end the Carolina threat.

The Panthers were without starting middle linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Chris Gamble, both inactive due to injuries. It was also their first game since losing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil to a season-ending foot injury.

Courtesy: Ron Green Jr | Charlotte Observer

2012 GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers

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HEAD2HEAD: A look at how the Cowboys and Panthers match up

After two consecutive losses, the Cowboys (2-3) will head to Charlotte to face a team that is in even worse shape than they are. The Carolina Panthers are 1-4, have lost their starting center Pro Bowl center, Ryan Kalil, for the season; are without their best cornerback, the injured Chris Gamble; have a quarterback, Cam Newton, who has failed to imitate his sensational performance as a rookie; and have a big-play receiver, Steve Smith, who has yet to catch a touchdown pass. The Cowboys’ problems, frankly, pale in comparison to the ones Carolina is facing. Here is a look at how both teams match up:

When the Cowboys run

Just when it seemed the Cowboys’ rushing attack was revving up after gaining 227 yards on the ground last Sunday against Baltimore, there is reason to believe it could slow down once again. After all, tailback DeMarco Murray has been declared out Sunday after spraining his left foot against the Ravens. While backup Felix Jones gained 92 yards last week, he has never been reliably productive in a featured role. But he has a chance to author his second consecutive strong performance against a Carolina defense that is the 10th-worst against the run.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Cowboys pass

Despite the fact that Miles Austin has surpassed 100 receiving yards in only one game this season, the Cowboys’ passing offense is still one of the most prolific in the league. The Cowboys are gaining 287.8 yards per game through the air – the sixth-highest average in the NFL. Dallas has benefited from the re-emergence of tight end Jason Witten, who has 19 catches for 200 yards in his last two games. Witten and quarterback Tony Romo should able to attack a Carolina’s pass defense that has yielded 249.6 yards per game. But Romo, who has thrown interceptions in each of his last six games, needs to be careful against a Carolina team that has returned two picks for touchdowns.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Panthers run

A backfield that features DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and quarterback Cam Newton would seem to be a formidable one. In many ways, it is. Carolina is producing 4.45 yards per carry – the seventh-highest average in the NFL. But they are in the bottom half of the league in rushing attempts. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have been solid but unspectacular against the run. They are ranked 13th in average yardage allowed but have stopped the opponent in the backfield nine times – the second-fewest in the NFL this season.

Edge: Panthers

When the Panthers pass

In his second season in the NFL, quarterback Cam Newton has slumped. He has thrown five interceptions versus four touchdown passes and his quarterback rating of 80.9 is 23rd-best in the NFL. Newton has been seen sulking repeatedly on the sidelines and he has admitted he has performed poorly.  Meanwhile, his most prolific receiver, Steve Smith, has been affected by Newton’s struggles. He has yet to reach the end zone this year. The Cowboys’ pass defense, ranked first in the NFL despite looking vulnerable the last two games, hopes to keep Smith locked down.

Edge: Cowboys

Special teams

This season, the Cowboys have fumbled on a kickoff, had a punt blocked and yielded a 108-yard touchdown return. Special teams, in no uncertain terms, have been a disaster for the Cowboys. That much was obvious long before Dan Bailey missed a 51-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds against Baltimore. Amazingly enough, Carolina’s special teams haven’t been much better. The Panthers have turned the ball over twice on returns and have had a punt blocked. But Carolina has allowed a lower average return on kickoffs than any other team.

Edge: Panthers


Despite losing 31-29 to Baltimore last Sunday, the Cowboys were encouraged by their performance. Now they face Carolina, a team that the Cowboys have defeated in eight of their nine previous meetings. Dallas knows that this is perhaps the least-challenging opponent it will face in its next four games – three of which will be on the road. The Cowboys’ chances at claiming a playoff berth would be reduced significantly if they lose Sunday. They should be motivated.

Edge: Cowboys

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TWISTS AND TURNS: The emerging Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers rivalry

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There seems to be a growing debate these days concerning which opponent is actually the Dallas Cowboys biggest rival.

Ask anyone who followed this team in the ’70s or ’80s and your answer will likely be the Redskins. Of course, if the ’90s were your favorite era, than it could be the Eagles, or maybe even the 49ers.

The Giants-Cowboys rivalry has certainly picked up steam and you can even make a case for teams like the Cardinals, Packers and even the Steelers on a Super Bowl level.

OK, so what about the Panthers? Yes, those Carolina Panthers who have been around for 18 seasons, playing the Cowboys just 11 times in the process.

You might think it’s way too early to consider Carolina as a big-time adversary but considering the history already between the two teams, it’s not far off.

In just 11 meetings we’ve already got two playoff games, which if you remember those two contests should be reason enough for Cowboys fans to dislike the Panthers. But aside from those contests, the other meetings have been quite entertaining with interesting twists and turns, including Tony Romo’s first-ever start and win back in 2006 in front of a national audience and the Cowboys’ first win at Cowboys Stadium.

For the record, the Cowboys are 8-3 against Carolina and winners of eight of the last nine. That loss, of course, came in the playoffs of the 2003 season, proving to be one of the few really lopsided games in this series.

So let’s start with the most recent, and work our way backward.

2009 – Cowboys 21, Panthers 7:

It wasn’t the first game at Cowboys Stadium, but it turned out to be the first win for America’s Team in their new palace. The Monday Night Football affair was close until the fourth quarter when the Panthers down by a touchdown and looking to for a tying-score. But Terence Newman, who had shadowed Steve Smith all night, picked off the pass and returned it for a game-clinching touchdown.

2007 – Cowboys 20, Panthers 13:

The Cowboys picked up their 13th win of the season, beating the Panthers in a game that clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Earlier in the week, the Cowboys weren’t sure how effective Romo would be after he injured his thumb in the previous game. He went out and threw 42 passes. However, the Cowboys lost Terrell Owens to a severely sprained ankle that limited him three weeks later in the playoff loss to the Giants.

2006 – Cowboys 35, Panthers 14:

A star is born. Tony Romo makes his first start for the Cowboys and leads them to a second-half rally on the road in Carolina. Romo threw for 270 yards and a touchdown, eventually winning five of his first six starts during that season.

2005 – Cowboys, 24, Panthers 20:

Lots of storylines for this Christmas Eve game. With the Cowboys’ slim postseason hopes on the line, two slumping players provided breakout games, leading the Cowboys to a much-needed 24-20 victory.

Julius Jones rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns for his only 100-yard game of the year. DeMarcus Ware hadn’t registered a sack in eight games, but exploded with three on this day as well as three forced fumbles.

The Cowboys shut down Steve Smith, who was so frustrated he ended up getting himself kicked out by shoving an official.

Still, the Cowboys needed an early Christmas gift. Kicker Billy Cundiff had shanked a field goal and had one blocked before he missed yet another chip-shot field goal in the final minute of play. However, a running-into-the-kicker penalty gave the Cowboys new life. Drew Bledsoe then threw a game-winning touchdown to Terry Glenn with 24 seconds to play.

It proved to be Cundiff’s last kick with the Cowboys, who released him shortly thereafter. And the Cowboys’ luck ran out as well, as they were eliminated from the playoffs the next week with both Washington and, yes, Carolina winning their games to keep the Cowboys out of the postseason.

2003 Playoffs – Panthers 29, Cowboys 10:

The Cowboys were simply out-manned in this NFC Wild Card Game on a rocking night game at then-named Ericsson Stadium. The Panthers rolled to a 19-point victory thanks to several big plays from Steve Smith, who showed rookie Terence Newman he still had some growing up to do. Quincy Carter had led the Cowboys to a 10-6 record, but the team was never that competitive in the game, which proved to be Carter’s last in Dallas.

2003 – Cowboys 24, Panthers 20:

Maybe the reason the Panthers played with such emotion in that playoff game, aside from the fact that it was a playoff game, was to avenge this tough loss to the Cowboys back in November. In a battle between two of the best teams in the NFC, the Cowboys outlasted the Panthers to improve their record to 8-4, assuring them of at least a .500 record after suffering three straight 5-11 seasons. After the game, a teary-eyed Parcells said, “you can’t call them losers anymore.”

2002 – Cowboys 14, Panthers 13:

It’s not over until …

Whatever the cliché is, the Cowboys finished it against the Panthers. Carolina had just whipped the Carter-led Cowboys for about 56 minutes. The score was 13-0, and Dallas was headed for their first home shutout in 11 years until something magical happened. The Cowboys got right back in the game on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Carter to Joey Galloway, but not before the ball passed through the hands of a Panthers safety. The tipped ball fell right into Galloway’s hands and just like that, the Cowboys trailed 13-7.

After the defense came to life and forced a punt, the game’s momentum had clearly shifted. Carter drove the offense down the field again, and facing another fourth-down, fired a bullet to rookie Antonio Bryant, who made a juggling catch in the end zone with just 56 seconds to play. A booth review confirmed the score and the extra point gave the Cowboys a thrilling, yet improbable win.

2000 – Cowboys, 16, Panthers 13 (OT):

In a defensive struggle that couldn’t be decided in just four quarters, Troy Aikman and the Cowboys’ offense finally put together one drive in overtime to secure the win. Aikman, playing his final season with the Cowboys, engineered a 75-yard drive in the first possession of overtime, leading to a game-winning field goal by rookie kicker Tim Seder.

1998 – Cowboys 27, Panthers 20:

Still playing without Aikman, who had suffered a broken collarbone four weeks earlier, the Cowboys were trying to stay alive in the NFC playoff race with Jason Garrett leading the way. The Cowboys found themselves down 14-3 early thanks to a touchdown pass from Kerry Collins to Rocket Ismail, who was playing his final year with the Panthers before signing with Dallas in 1999. But Garrett and Emmitt Smith, who rushed for 132 yards, rallied the Cowboys for a victory that pushed the team’s record to 4-2 in a season that seemed to be lost when Aikman went down in Week 2.

1997 – Panthers 23, Cowboys 13:

Carolina improved to 2-0 against the Cowboys by handing Dallas a humiliating defeat on Monday Night Football. In what turned out to be one of Barry Switzer’s final games as head coach, the Cowboys never got on track from start to finish. Collins hooked up with Muhsin Muhammad for several big plays and the Panthers also got 131 rushing yards from the late Fred Lane. The Cowboys were officially eliminated from the postseason.

1996 Playoffs – Panthers 26, Cowboys 17:

After winning three of the previous four Super Bowls, and fighting through an early-season stumble to win the NFC East for the fifth straight year, there weren’t many people who gave the Panthers a chance to beat the Cowboys here in the NFC Divisional Playoff game, no matter if they were at home or not.

But it didn’t take the whole world long to learn about Carolina. In just their second year of existence, the Panthers smacked the Cowboys around all day, dethroning the defending Super Bowl champions in a game that put the Panthers on the NFL map. Now, Cowboys fans will always say the game might have been different had Michael Irvin not suffered a shoulder injury early in the outing. And, of course, it would’ve been different, but who’s to say the Cowboys would’ve won? We’ll never know.

IT’S GIVE AND TAKE: Dez Bryant needs to quit petitioning refs for flags

Dez Bryant catches a touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas — There is a consistent trend with Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant that probably needs to stop: He’s arguing with the referees. Too much.

Bryant wants calls. He says his jersey is getting pulled by defensive backs and that there are push-offs. On his second touchdown catch against Baltimore, Bryant pushed off cornerback Cary Williams. But Bryant wanted a call made when he failed to catch a potential game-tying two-point conversion when he felt Williams made contact before the play.

Said Williams: "He needs to step up and be a man. You can’t be a baby about stuff. You’ve got to man up. It’s one-on-one. Mano-a-mano. I got you. Sometimes you’re going to win. Sometimes you’re going to lose."

Coach Jason Garrett said the arguing with the officials has to stop and Bryant has to concentrate and move to the next play.

"Absolutely. We try to emphasize that to everybody on our team," Garrett said. "There’s certainly a natural reaction that a lot of guys have. You see it all around the league. There’s an attention to the officiating, and you’ve just got to make sure to focus on doing your job. Obviously he felt a couple of different occasions where he was getting held, he was a little bit restrictive."

Bryant is a talented player who wears his emotions not just on his sleeve, but on his entire body.

In pregame warm-ups, he’s bouncing around catching passes from anybody who will throw them. During the game, there is a natural chirping that goes on between players. Bryant is almost always in the middle of it. At times Bryant has to be pulled away by a teammate after complaining to a referee. Sometimes he’s the only offensive player on the field still barking at the refs.

After Bryant caught a 1-yard pass in the closing seconds of the Cowboys’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens, he was complaining to the referee.

"But again, we emphasize to him, get that guy off of him and go make the play," Garrett said. "At times (in the Baltimore game) he did an outstanding job of that. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out on the two-point play. But Dez is getting better and better every week. We’re excited to have him on our football team."

RELATED: INJURY UPDATE – Dez Bryant expected to play at Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is expected to play today at Carolina.

Bryant, who has been battling groin soreness, didn’t practice Friday and was officially listed as questionable. He will test his groin in pre-game warm-ups and – if he doesn’t have a setback – will start for the Cowboys.

Bryant is coming off the best two-game stretch of his career and leads the team with 34 catches for 364 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Tony Romo has targeted Bryant a combined 28 times over the last two games compared to 11 times to Miles Austin.

The Cowboys, however, could take Bryant off of punt returns and use Dwayne Harris in his place to help manage the injury throughout the game.

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