The Dallas Cowboys scored 23 unanswered points, 20 coming in the third quarter, in a 36-28 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in Arlington.
Dallas used its potent rushing attack against a Panthers defense that had been equal to the task against the run this season. The Cowboys rushed for 245 yards on 34 attempts, good for 7.2 yards per carry. Carolina came into the game averaging just 45 rushing yards allowed per game on offense.
The home team’s strategy was evident on its first scoring drive, running on seven of their nine plays to set up an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown from one yard out.
Carolina responded with a score of their own, and held a 14-13 lead at half, but the second half onslaught proved to be too much for the visitors to overcome.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 143 yards, including the opening touchdown, and the Panthers head coach lamented his team’s performance afterwards.
“Zeke’s one of the best, we have to get off blocks, we played man, we played zone, it was a day we struggled to get off the field,” Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said of the team’s uncharacteristic defensive struggles.
While the Panthers struggled getting off the field on offense, they also failed to stay on the field in the third quarter, missing out on five third-down attempts after converting 4-of-6 third downs in the first half.
“There’s gonna be runs like that in games, I’d like to see us respond a little quicker,” Rhule said. “I think we let one play turn into a bad drive, turn into a whole bad quarter. Had we regrouped a little sooner, the result might be a little bit different.”
Carolina regrouped after Dallas stretched out its lead to 22 points, with Darnold finding DJ Moore for a pair of touchdowns on back-to-back drives in the hurry-up offense. Dallas got the ball back with 4:26 to play, and salted away the game with the Panthers not able to stop the run or the clock without any timeouts.
“Obviously disappointed with the way today went. We knew they were really hot team coming in, and they showed us that.” Rhule said. “I thought our guys showed resolve coming back and making it a one score game with a chance to maybe get a stop. Like all good teams they made one more play and found a way to make it happen.”
Sam Darnold threw for 301 yards, accounted for all four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing), but a pair of interceptions thrown to Trevon Diggs served as a black mark on an otherwise solid day.
“The third quarter we just didn’t play Carolina Panther football,” Darnold said. “We made a surge there at the end, but it was too late.”
Rhule said both interceptions from Darnold were “correctable mistakes”.
“We would have liked to have signaled a different route to DJ, the first one was sort of an unfortunate error. Wrong place, wrong time for us,” Rhule said.
Darnold also faced a barrage of pressure from the Cowboys defense, as Dallas hit the quarterback 11 times with five sacks.
“I couldn’t tell you what all the problems were,” Panthers center Matt Paradis said after the game. “We didn’t protect well enough. Too much pressure around Sam.”
On the team’s first real adversity they’ve faced in a young season, the head coach said they’d handle it through the right prism.
“We won’t overreact,” Rhule said. “We’ll take this as a way to make ourselves better.”
“It is embarrassing,” Panthers defender Brian Burns said when asked about the team’s inability to stop the run. “But I’m not gonna let one game define us as a defense.”
The Panthers (3-1) return home Sunday for their first of two consecutive home games against teams with losing records as they face the Philadelphia Eagles (1-3), followed by the Minnesota Vikings (1-3).