Standing on the field during the final few minutes, watching that game unfold for the Cowboys, it reminded me what a struggle it is to win in this league. One play here, one call there is the difference whether you win or lose.
Going into this game, I knew that the Panthers offense was going to give the Dallas defense problems. Not just because of the athletic ability of Cam Newton, but also having to deal with wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olson.
I felt confident that Carolina would try to attack cornerback Morris Claiborne, and it was a real learning experience for him. To make a key interception in the red zone early in the game was a huge boost, but to also drive solo on the attempted pass to Louis Murphy on fourth down with the game on the line shows how much confidence defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his staff have in Claiborne.
It appeared that linebacker Anthony Spencer also played very well. When the team really needed a sack at the end, he came through. For a player that missed the last several games due to injury, he was able to give his team a huge spark defending the run and provided pressure against the pass. I was looking for fellow linebacker DeMarcus Ware to be that guy making the final play, but Ryan will take it any way he can get it.
Speaking of Ryan, I thought he called an outstanding game against an offensive scheme you don't see every day.
On the other side of the ball, I thought that head coach Jason Garrett did do a nice job of mixing his personnel groups to keep the Panthers off balance. Quarterback Tony Romo was more than up to the challenge of handling the game plan, and as long as the Cowboys offensive line was able to hold up protection-wise, there were plays that were able to be made down the field.
In the second half, the Cowboys were able to execute better when they needed to. Jason Witten, Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner and Miles Austin all were able to make plays to help keep drives going and finish off the game. Center Ryan Cook was also able to once again step in for the injured Phil Costa and be a stable force in the middle of the offensive line.
Also give a great deal of credit to punter Brian Moorman and the coverage unit that were spot on with tackles in the open field after Moorman was able to boom the ball directionally. It was a great effort from him and Dan Bailey as well, getting the ball home four times after his miss last week against the Ravens.