A week after the Panthers leaned on Cam Newton for five passing touchdowns, they used the defense to get the job done on Thanksgiving.
The Carolina Panthers’ defense turned Tony Romo over three times, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, and they topped the Dallas Cowboys 33-14 in AT&T Stadium on Thursday night.
First it was safety Kurt Coleman with a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown. Then linebacker Luke Kuechly got in on the action with a 32-yard pick-six. Kuechly came back on the next Cowboys’ offensive possession and picked off Romo again.
Carolina’s Thanksgiving halftime lead swelled to 20, and the rest was gravy.
It was enough to draw the praise, albeit conditional, of Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
“I really like the way we are playing on the defensive side of the football,” he said, “sans the last few minutes of this one.”
Newton only attempted 27 passes, completing 16 of them for 183 yards as the Panthers spent most of the second half bleeding out the clock. Jonathan Stewart’s 68 rushing yards helped the Panthers eclipse the 100-rushing-yard mark for a league-leading 22 consecutive games.
But it was the Panthers’ defense dominated the game. Not only did it pick off Romo three times – and knock him out of the game early in the fourth quarter – but it limited the Cowboys’ rushing attack to just 31 yards one week after holding Washington to 14.
Now the 11-0 Panthers get to enjoy a mini bye with a four-day weekend. Panthers coach Ron Rivera will give the players Monday off and they’ll practice again on Tuesday in preparation for New Orleans.
Three who mattered
Tony Romo: You don’t throw three interceptions and average just 5 yards per pass attempt and not matter in this game. Romo’s poor play unquestionably played the biggest role in the outcome.
Luke Kuechly: Two first-half interceptions showed that the middle linebacker has improved in pass coverage. He turned one interception into six points and the offense got three points off the other.
Josh Norman: He matters because he made Dez Bryant not matter. He broke up the first pass that went Bryant’s way and held him to just one catch for 6 yards.
▪ Newton’s third-quarter touchdown rush was capped by a masterful troll job. After receiving criticism for his touchdown celebration two weeks ago, Newton celebrated his 4-yard run by doing dances from the 1950s. He did the Twist, then did the swim before doing the dance “hittin’ dem folk” and his patented Superman pose.
▪ The referees credited a short reception to Cole Beasley on a first-quarter third down near the goal line. It didn’t make a difference in the game, but the play shouldn’t have been ruled a catch. The NFL has a real problem with a crucial element of its game that must be worked out this offseason.
▪ The Panthers were too lax with their time management late in the second quarter following Kuechly’s second interception. By the time they made it down to the 2, they only had 16 seconds left. They threw three times and didn’t rush once despite having two timeouts, settling for a field goal.
▪ Romo returned from his collarbone injury last week but admitted he was still in danger of re-injuring it. A Thomas Davis hit in the fourth quarter knocked Romo out of the game and, possibly, the rest of the season.
▪ Newton was wearing custom-made Under Armour cleats that showed him doing the dab on the side. It’s unclear if those violate league rules.
▪ Receiver Jerricho Cotchery’s 73 yards were the third-most of his Panthers’ career. He had 80 against Baltimore last year and 82 against Green Bay this year.
▪ Receiver Philly Brown (shoulder) and cornerback Peanut Tillman (knee) were inactive after missing practice the past week. Long snapper J.J. Jansen (head) was active after some uncertainty this week. The Panthers even signed a backup long snapper, Danny Aiken, who was inactive. And with Charles Johnson back from temporary IR, Ryan Delaire was a healthy scratch.
They said it
“It wasn’t about stopping one guy but I thought our guys did a nice job.” – Rivera, on how well his team contained former teammate Greg Hardy (no sacks, no tackles).
“Very disrespectful.” – Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, on talk of the Panthers being underdogs against Dallas.
“I don’t want to bore you with the details. My thought process needed to be different on each.” – Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo on his two pick-sixes.
“They’re a really good football team. You have to give them credit. The best thing they do is take the ball away. ... It’s a big part of the formula for the one that they have.” – Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
“I get it. We’re at their place. That’s what the referee said to me and I can’t argue that. If it would have been at our place, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.” – Rivera on Josh Norman’s late-game penalty for celebrating.