Panthers whip Dallas, remain perfect on the season
By Schuyler Dixon
AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Cam Newton sprinted to a corner of the $1.2 billion showplace of the Dallas Cowboys, pointing a camera at celebrating Carolina fans while gesturing to them with a wide smile.
A few minutes later, a somber Tony Romo talked to reporters with his left arm in a sling for the second time this season because of a collarbone injury.
The Panthers are 11-0 after a 33-14 victory in their Thanksgiving debut, and the Cowboys could be facing another long stretch without Romo in what has become a lost season for the defending NFC East champions.
Luke Kuechly and Kurt Coleman returned two of Romo’s three interceptions for touchdowns, and Newton ran for the Panthers’ only offensive score as they pushed their NFL-best winning streak to 15 regular-season games Thursday.
“Well, we got a lot of help from our defense,” Newton said. “Defense went out there and brought their A-game and made our job a lot easier.”
Romo’s first collarbone injury sidelined him for all seven games of a losing streak that severely damaged the chances for another playoff trip by the Cowboys (3-8), who have now lost eight of nine.
The 35-year-old with a surgically repaired back said he would have to wait for more test results Friday before knowing if he broke the collarbone again. He was injured in Week 2 at Philadelphia and said the injury had a similar feel this time.
Coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t rule out Romo returning this season, and said he would play if he was cleared even with the Cowboys unlikely to have a realistic shot to defend their division title.
Kuechly intercepted two straight passes by Romo, returning the first 32 yards for a touchdown. Coleman picked off Romo’s second pass of the game and took it back 36 yards for the score to send the Panthers on their way to becoming the 16th NFL team to win the first 11 games.
“We started fast on defense,” Kuechly said. “Kurt had that big pick and really set the tone.”
Before getting hurt, Romo didn’t look anything like the only quarterback to beat multiple teams with records of 9-0 or better.
He ended up losing for the first time in four starts this season. He had previously beaten Indianapolis at 9-0 in his fourth career start in 2006 and New Orleans at 13-0 three years later.
Newton did his part as well, getting Carolina’s only offensive touchdown on a 4-yard run for a 30-6 lead moments before Romo’s injury. He had 183 yards passing with several key third-down conversions and another 45 yards rushing.
On the second play of Dallas’ possession after Newton’s score, Romo was hit by a blitzing Thomas Davis and went down on his left shoulder, just as he did almost 10 weeks ago in Philadelphia.
Romo went on injured reserve with a designation to return after the first injury, and the Cowboys couldn’t win without him. They were already well on their way to a loss this time a week after Romo ended the seven-game skid in his return last week at Miami.
He was 11 of 21 with 106 yards and a 27.2 passer rating.
“I’m just very disappointed in not giving our team a chance to win today,” Romo said. “They depend on me to go out there and perform at a certain level, and when I let them down, let our team down, our coaches, our fan base, everybody. That’s what I did today, and I have to live with that.”
Carolina led 13-3 when Kuechly and the NFL’s leading defense for takeaways put the Panthers firmly in control.
The league’s top tackler since joining the NFL in 2012, Kuechly dropped into coverage and easily stepped in front of a pass intended for Terrance Williams before churning up the left sideline and pushing Romo away as he crossed the goal line.
On the next play, Kuechly made a nifty over-the-head catch on a ball thrown to Jason Witten. The linebacker looked a little winded on the return, eventually settling for a 17-yarder that led to the third of Graham Gano’s four field goals to put the Panthers up 23-3 at halftime.
“In my eyes, he will always be Captain America because he makes every play,” Newton said. “He shows up. He prepares extremely well. That’s what people really don’t see about this whole team.”
It was the fourth time Romo has thrown multiple pick-6s in a game, and the first since a 34-18 home loss in 2012 against a Chicago defense that was among the league’s best in forcing turnovers. Romo actually won his first of those, against Buffalo in 2007.
No such chance this time, because Newton kept the Carolina offense moving when Romo wasn’t throwing interceptions.
Newton had three 24-yard completions on third down, and led the Panthers into the end zone after Dallas’ Byron Jones was penalized for leaping on top of his linemen when Gano made a 48-yard field goal.
NOTES: Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy had a quiet game against his former team, finishing without any tackles and missing most of the second half with an injury Garrett wouldn’t specify. He missed the last 15 games last year with Carolina because of his domestic violence case. Hardy signed with the Cowboys as a free agent and served a four-game suspension to start this season. … Panther WR Jerricho Cotchery had five catches for a game-high 73 yards, and four of them converted third downs.