Final

Cowboys 20

(13-2, 7-0 away)

Panthers 13

(6-9, 2-6 home)

Coverage: NFL

8:00 PM ET, December 22, 2007

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC 

1 2 3 4 T
DAL 7 10 0 320
CAR 0 7 3 313

Top Performers

Passing: T. Romo (DAL) - 257 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: M. Barber (DAL) - 22 CAR, 110 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: S. Smith (CAR) - 9 REC, 137 YDS, 1 TD

Cowboys avoid second straight loss behind defense, Romo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Tony Romo's sore thumb appeared fine and the Dallas Cowboys were driving down the field on the way to taking a 14-0 lead.

Then Terrell Owens sprained his left ankle. The offense stalled and the concern about Owens' overshadowed Dallas' 20-13 victory over the Panthers on Saturday night.

While Dallas (13-2) moved a step closer to clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs behind a solid defense and an improved running game, the Cowboys were dealing with another injury to a key offensive player.

Last week it was Romo, who bruised his right thumb and was ineffective in a loss to Philadelphia. Now it's Owens, who left in the second quarter after his left leg got caught underneath him after a catch.

"I think it's just a high ankle sprain," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said. "According to the X-ray, that's all we see. We'll take another look at it tomorrow."

The Cowboys made it 14-0 a play after Owens left, but failed to score another touchdown and were greeted with Owens wearing a boot on his left foot after the game. He didn't speak to reporters.

Romo threw for 257 yards and a touchdown, but wasn't as effective without his top target.

"Obviously he's an explosive player who's going to obviously be missed if he's not back," Romo said. "I haven't heard anything. I don't know if he's coming back next week or what."

After the Panthers (6-9) cut it to 20-13 on John Kasay's 25-yard field goal with 3:01 left, the Panthers decided not to try an onside kick.

The Cowboys then put it away on Marion Barber's 11-yard run for a first down with 1:45 left.

Barber rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries to help Dallas match the 1992 team for the most victories in franchise history.

But despite improving to 7-0 on the road, the Cowboys struggled to put away the Panthers, who started undrafted rookie Matt Moore for a second straight week.

Moore, who like Romo went undrafted and spent training camp with the Cowboys, threw for 182 yards. He threw his first NFL touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the second quarter, and connected with Smith on a 57-yard pass play that led to Kasay's final field goal.

But Moore was intercepted once and sacked five times, twice by DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys' defense was strong despite the absence of Roy Williams, who was serving a one-game suspension for an illegal "horse-collar" tackle.

"I think there were some good things and there's obviously stuff to work on," Moore said. "That interception in the second half was just a bad read."

Smith caught nine passes for 137 yards, but the Panthers managed only 67 yards rushing and were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

After the game, Carolina coach John Fox refused to discuss an NFL Network report that owner Jerry Richardson said Fox and general manager Marty Hurney would return next year despite their second straight non-winning season.

"I won't address that or any conversations until the season is over," Fox said.

While the Panthers' season will end next week, the Cowboys will clinch home-field throughout the playoffs if Green Bay loses at Chicago on Sunday.

But there are concerns about when Owens will be able to play again.

Owens had his team-record 15th touchdown catch of the season in the first quarter. After grabbing a sideline hitch pass, Owens barreled over cornerback Richards Marshall for a 10-yard score and a 7-0 lead.

Owens' fifth catch midway through the second quarter was his last. After Romo's 4-yard pass near the goal line, Owens went down awkwardly after he was tackled by Jon Beason.

Agitated, Owens limped to the sideline, then later walked to the locker room. He was seen later seen walking outside the locker room without his left shoe, and he remained in the locker room for the rest of the game.

Cowboys took a 14-0 lead the play after Owens went down on Barber's 5-yard run, but struggled to score again despite a big possession advantage.

"We still ran all the same plays we run when he's in there," said receiver Patrick Crayton, who starts opposite Owens. "I think once 81 was out, once T.O. was out, they started playing more man. That's fine. That's how we like it. We hate playing against zone. I think zone should be outlawed by the NFL."

Romo, shaking off the distractions from last week's poor play and the publicity over girlfriend Jessica Simpson's appearance, completed 28 of 42 passes and had one interception.

There was no sign of Simpson, although a trio of portly male fans wore blond wigs and a handful of others wore Simpson masks.

They cheered when Romo fumbled the first snap of the game from fill-in center Cory Procter, who replaced Pro Bowl pick Andre Gurode (knee).

But Romo quickly found a rhythm, with the assist from a ground game that had disappeared of late.

The Cowboys rushed only 15 times for 53 yards against the Eagles, but Dallas targeted Carolina's defensive line, which was without Julius Peppers (knee), by rushing for 148 yards.

The Panthers cut it to 14-7 on Moore's first touchdown pass of his career, an 11-yard pass to Smith, his first TD catch since Week 6.

Trailing 17-7 early in the third quarter, the Panthers drove inside the Dallas 10. Then center Justin Hartwig sprained his right knee. He was replaced by rookie Ryan Kalil, and Moore was sacked on the next two plays. Kasay kicked a 37-yard field goal to make it 17-10.

Game notes


Dallas improved to 7-1 against Carolina in the regular season. Carolina is 2-0 against Dallas in the playoffs. ... Peppers had his streak of 78 straight games played snapped, missing a game for the first time since a four-game suspension to end the 2002 season for violating the NFL's banned substance policy .... Smith's second-quarter TD catch was his team-record 45th of his career.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
DAL
CAR
1st Downs2512
Passing 1st downs
169
Rushing 1st downs
82
1st downs from penalties
11
3rd down efficiency
7-172-11
4th down efficiency
3-31-1
Total Plays7947
Total Yards405216
Yards per play5.14.6
Total Drives1110
Passing257147
Comp-Att
28-4215-28
Yards per pass
6.14.5
Interceptions thrown
11
Sacks-Yards Lost
0-05-35
Rushing14869
Rushing Attempts
3714
Yards per rush
4.04.9
Red Zone (Made-Att)2-31-3
Penalties5-393-15
Turnovers11
Fumbles lost
00
Interceptions thrown
11
Defensive / Special Teams TDs00
Possession39:0021:00

Passing Leaders

DALC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Romo28/422576.1110-0
CARC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Moore15/281826.5115-35

Rushing Leaders

DALCARYDSAVGTDLG
Barber221105.0137
Jones9252.805
CARCARYDSAVGTDLG
Williams10606.0039
Foster492.303

Receiving Leaders

DALRECYDSAVGTDLG
Crayton7659.3016
Witten6538.8022
CARRECYDSAVGTDLG
Smith913715.2157
Rosario11313.0013

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERDALCAR
dalTD1:30Terrell Owens, 10 yd pass from Tony Romo (Nick Folk kick is good)
Drive info: 13 plays, 70 yds, 6:18
70
SECOND QUARTERDALCAR
dalTD7:02Marion Barber, 5 yd run (Nick Folk kick is good)
Drive info: 8 plays, 75 yds, 4:13
140
carTD5:43Steve Smith, 11 yd pass from Matt Moore (John Kasay kick is good)
Drive info: 3 plays, 63 yds, 1:19
147
dalFG2:00Nick Folk 42 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 8 plays, 44 yds, 3:42
177
THIRD QUARTERDALCAR
carFG8:00John Kasay 37 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 12 plays, 36 yds, 7:00
1710
FOURTH QUARTERDALCAR
dalFG8:57Nick Folk 23 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 8 plays, 37 yds, 4:57
2010
carFG3:04John Kasay 25 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 9 plays, 60 yds, 1:53
2013