NFL: Newman’s pick adds to Panthers’ nightmare
By Jaime Aron
ARLINGTON, Texas ó Leading, but not by much, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys were desperately in need of a big play.
Jake Delhomme helped them make several.
Terence Newman returned an interception 27 yards for a lead-stretching touchdown with 5:07 left, then rookie linebacker Victor Butler got two sacks and forced a fumble on the next series, sending Dallas to a 21-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.
Considering the Cowboys were coming off a last-second loss in the opener of their $1.15 billion stadium, a crowd of 90,588 was especially tense until the defense put the game away. The biggest sigh of relief likely came from team owner Jerry Jones.
“It certainly does feel good,” Jones said. “The way it went so early, it just felt like maybe we ought to check this thing out for Grim Reapers living in the back someplace.”
Dallas (2-1) trailed 7-0 at halftime and was booed by fans. Although the defense was playing well and running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice were easing the load on Romo, the quarterback was being careful to avoid mistakes that doomed the Cowboys the previous week.
When Romo threw a pair of incompletions from the 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, Dallas was up by only six points. Then Newman stepped in front of a pass to Steve Smith, darted toward the right corner of the end zone and dived in. Butler capped the night with his pair of sacks and the turnover, giving the Cowboys three of each after not having any of either over the first two weeks.
“Everybody on the outside was pressing the panic button, but not us,” linebacker Bradie James said. “We knew we had a bunch of ball left to play. There was still a lot of time to improve.”
The Panthers sure hope so.
After going 12-4 and winning their division, they’re 0-3 headed into a bye week. This is their worst start since 0-7 in 1998, and Delhomme has seven interceptions, seven sacks and two fumbles.
“We have lots of football left,” coach John Fox said. “We’re not even a quarter through the season. We’ve had three-loss skids before. We have to stick together.”
Smith insisted Delhomme wasn’t to blame for the game-breaking mistake. Fox said a slant was called, and Smith said he changed the route.
“I put Jake in a bad situation,” Smith said. “The bottom line is that I (hurt) Jake.”
Delhomme was 22 of 33 for 220 yards, but here are the only numbers that mattered: Carolina’s six second-half drives ended with four punts, an interception and a fumble.
The effort showed what Cowboys coach-defensive coordinator Wade Phillips thought his unit was capable of doing. Mike Jenkins came up with a first-half interception, and Jay Ratliff got the season’s first sack.
The only blemish was a 90-yard drive just before halftime that put the Panthers up 7-0. Even with that, Carolina had only 271 yards and 15 first downs. The Panthers were 1 of 8 on third downs.
“Before the game we talked about how our defensive line and linebackers did their job last week and how we didn’t do our job,” Newman said. “So I told them, ‘Hey it’s on us. We’ve got to shut these guys down.’ We let this team down last week, and we have to make up for it this week.”
Dallas was without running back Marion Barber because of a bruised thigh but hardly missed him as fill-in starter Felix Jones broke off plays of 16, 18 and 20 yards on the first two drives.
Romo was 22 of 33 for 255 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers.
“It’s all about improving and doing it on the field,” Romo said. “That was my sole focus this week, to understand why I did certain things and not make those mistakes again and come out and be a better quarterback.”
Carolina’s Dante Rosario came in with three catches for 31 yards, but he had three catches for 58 yards on the scoring drive, including a 25-yard touchdown catch. Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams had 63 yards on 11 carries.
Dallas has won eight straight regular-season games against the Panthers since 1998, although Carolina won a playoff meeting in 2003.