ARLINGTON, Texas – The interception returns for touchdowns not only set the tone of the game, but were the deciding factors.
The Cowboys weren't able to do much with the ball and couldn't make the necessary stops when it mattered most.
But those plays are easily remembered. In all games, there are a handful that could easily go unnoticed, but yet changed the outcome.
Let's take a closer look at five that affected this game.
McFadden no-call –Trailing 10-0, the Cowboys marched the field on their third possession and were in position to score. On a second-and-goal, Romo's pass over the middle to Darren McFadden was incomplete. But the running back was clearly hit early by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, which knocked him to the ground as the ball was in the air. On third down, Romo's pass to Cole Beasley was short of the end zone, forcing a field goal.
McClain's drop –After the Cowboys had cut into the Panthers' first-quarter lead with a field goal, the first play of the ensuing series nearly went their way. Linebacker Rolando McClain jumped a route and had both hands on a Cam Newton pass, but couldn't make the pick. The turnover likely would've given the Cowboys the ball inside Carolina's 30-yard line, if not farther. But the Panthers were able to keep the ball and then pick up a big first down on a throw to Greg Olsen. The Cowboys eventually held, but missed out on a chance to score.
Failure to recover muffed punt– The Cowboys punted the ball back to Carolina midway through the second quarter after a three-and-out, but had another great chance for a turnover when the ball grazed the hand of Panthers safety Dean Marlowe. The ball was on the carpet for a moment with J.J. Wilcox there to recover it, but Marlowe alertly shoved Wilcox away and dove on the ball to keep possession for the Panthers. Taking over at the 27-yard line, the Panthers drove the ball in 10 plays to set up a field goal, extending the lead to 13-3.
Quick screen to Escobar – That alone just doesn't sound right. And it didn't look right, either. Nothing about that call or execution was right for the Cowboys and it turned out to be a big momentum-crusher for the Cowboys, who had just stopped the Panthers and grabbed great field position to start the half. Desperately needing a touchdown to trim into the 23-3 lead, the Cowboys had a third-and-3 from the Carolina 28. Romo's quick screen to Escobar was sniffed out from the start and the Panthers dropped him for a 2-yard loss. The Cowboys had to settle for a field goal and still trailed 23-6.
[embeddedad0]Panthers convert third-and-long – The Cowboys were trailing late in the third, 23-6, and desperately needed a stop. Instead of running the usual "Money 44" defense that keeps most defenders back by the line to gain, the Cowboys blitzed and didn't get home. Newton hit Jerricho Cotchery for a 24-yard first down to move the sticks. The Panthers were able to get a touchdown on the drive, thanks to an illegal leaping play on Byron Jones on a field goal that extended the drive and allowed Carolina to get into the end zone.