CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – One game into the season and the Cowboys certainly have some issues to clean up. We all could see offensive problems and the defense just didn't get off the field enough. Plus, the special teams didn't help out either as the Cowboys dropped to 0-1 with a 16-8 loss.
Like all games, there are several players that go unnoticed or could be overlooked. Still, they play a huge role in the eventual outcome.
Let's look at five plays that changed the direction of this game.
Zeke's missed block – The Cowboys were already backed up on a drive early in the second quarter, starting at the 14-yard line. But on first down, running back Ezekiel Elliott couldn't get over in time to block blitzing linebacker Shaq Thompson, who decked quarterback Dak Prescott for a 7-yard loss. That changed the entire series and forced the Cowboys to be conservative and eventually punt. The return by Damiere Byrd went 30 yards to the Cowboys' 35, where Carolina marched it in for the first touchdown of the game.
Heath's near-interception – With the Panthers driving early in the second quarter in a scoreless game, the Cowboys defense, which already got one red-zone turnover, nearly had a second when safety Jeff Heath got his hands on an errant throw from Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. The ball was deflected over the middle and Heath lost his footing while trying to track the ball. But still, he had a shot to corral the pick and get the defense off the field. Instead, the Panthers continued the drive and scored on a touchdown run by Newton.
Dak fails to hit Jarwin – The Cowboys desperately needed a first down late in the second quarter, and it appeared Prescott had found a way to get one. After avoiding a rush up the middle, the quarterback saw a wide open Blake Jarwin some 35 yards down the field. But his pass on the run was too low and bounced right at the tight end's feet for an incomplete pass, leading to another punt. The Panthers took the ball after a 15-yard penalty on special teams and marched to a field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Empty third-down conversion – Dallas was trailing 10-0 in the third quarter and had the ball in Carolina territory facing a third-and-3 at the Panthers' 46-yard line. But instead of playing for possible two-down territory, the Cowboys opted to pass with Prescott, who faced heavy pressure and eventually threw the ball away out of bounds. It moved the Cowboys to 0-6 on third-down conversions. Jason Garrett then chose to punt, squandering the team's best opportunity to score to that point in the game.
Holding call on Collins – Late in the third quarter, the Cowboys were mounting what was then their best drive of the day and had a first down after a 16-yard catch over the middle by Cole Beasley to the Panthers' 29. But on first down, a 3-yard run by Elliott was wiped out by a holding call on right tackle La'el Collins, pushing the ball back to first-and-20. From there, the Cowboys could only manage 9 yards and Brett Maher's 47-yard field goal attempt was wide to the right.