Across America on Thursday, families playing backyard football lined up their two best playmaking family members at receiver and cornerback and let them play.
The same thing happened at AT&T Stadium on Thursday, and Josh Norman undoubtedly got the better of Dez Bryant in Carolina’s 33-14 victory.
Norman, the Carolina Panthers’ top cornerback and now among the elite in the league, put the clamps on Cowboys receiver Bryant. Against Norman, Bryant caught one pass for 6 yards while having one knocked away and two more hit the ground in the end zone.
According to Norman, Bryant did himself in during the pregame warmups.
Norman said Bryant was talking trash to the younger cornerbacks – like second-year corner Bené Benwikere – and telling them to act like a carrier pigeon and deliver the message to Norman.
Norman, who was inside the locker room getting stretched out, got the word, and from there he went into his mythical “dark place.”
It took four seconds of game action for Norman and Bryant to get into it. They were in each other’s faces before Darren McFadden had even been tackled for a gain of 4 yards on the first play of scrimmage.
“The thing is, the crazy part about all that is, he started from the first play,” Norman said. “And after that it was nothing. There’s no pact between lions and men between the white lines. None! And if my intensity is all-out for four quarters and the opponent’s not, that’s not my fault. And I do not shy away from saying that.”
After the game it was clear Norman had things he wanted to get off his chest. He’s felt disrespected before, but not the level of this week.
The undefeated Panthers were picked by Las Vegas as underdogs. Well-known ESPN analysts picked the Cowboys to win, and it got back to Norman.
He was so disrespected that he even had to watch the movie “300” this weekend despite planning to save it for later in the season – probably against Atlanta’s Julio Jones.
So Norman kept his intensity throughout the game. Bryant’s one catch against Norman went for 6 yards. His only other catch came when he flashed across the middle and Thomas Davis slipped in coverage as Bryant picked up 20 yards.
In last week’s victory over the Dolphins, Bryant felt so moved by Miami cornerback Brent Grimes’ play against him that they exchanged jerseys after the game.
Don’t think Norman didn’t take note.
“Brent Grimes was obviously the best corner in the league. He got his jersey. And he was four (catches) for 45 (yards) with a touchdown,” Norman said. “I think today he was two for 26 and no touchdowns. I don’t know how many he caught on me, but I can think of one and that was 6 yards.
“So I don’t know if he’s going to want my jersey now. Maybe I’ll give it to him.”
On a fourth-quarter end zone pass from Matt Cassel – who replaced Romo after the Panthers knocked him out the game – Norman went up against Bryant. The ball was well overthrown and out the back of the end zone.
Norman didn’t care. He celebrated by cheering with Panthers’ fans sitting in the corner of the stands. He drew a 15-yard penalty and, after the game, Panthers coach Ron Rivera couldn’t even be that mad at him.
The Panthers had defeated the Cowboys and Norman had defeated Bryant. After the game, Norman wanted everyone to know that he finished what he believed Bryant started.
“It’s a game of football that’s played with men, not boys,” Norman said, his anger growing as he started chopping off consonants. “If you don’t like that for four quarters, why are you out here? What you doin’ it for? If you’re not passionate, what are you doin’?
“I give thanks for that, that I was able to play the whole four quarters with all-out intensity, raw and physical. If you don’t like it, it is what it is. I don’t care. You’re not 11-0. We are.”