It was bad … and then it got worse. Way worse.
Already enduring one of the toughest outings of his career, Tony Romo then reinjured his left clavicle on the last play of the third quarter, the outcome likely sidelining him for what will presumably be another extended period of time. He had already missed seven games this season with a fractured clavicle suffered in Week 2.
In a game that was already lost for Dallas by that time, this just added injury to insult. The Carolina Panthers came in undefeated and left with a 33-14 victory, reassuring 90,909 fans on hand and a national television audience that they are indeed one of the NFL's elite this year.
Perhaps it was the quick turnaround of playing on a Thursday or maybe it was just having to face one of the league's top-ranked defenses. Whatever the case, even before the injury, Romo wasn't sharp. When your star receiver has as many catches as the opposing team's star linebacker, well, you know it's been a tough day.
There were receivers missed, and even worse, three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. Romo finished with just 106 yards off of 11-for-21 passing with no touchdowns and those three picks. Overall, Dallas totaled just 210 yards of offense, including a season-low 31 on the ground.
The quarterback's struggles started right from the get-go as on the third play of the game, he stared down intended target Jason Witten, which allowed Kurt Coleman to step in front of the pass for the interception. The Carolina safety then weaved his way through the Dallas offense to reach the end zone and give the visitors an early 7-0 lead.
After that, the defenses settled in for a field goal affair as the Panthers sandwiched boots of 49 and 43 yards around a Dan Bailey field goal from 21 yards out that got Dallas on the board. But with less than three minutes remaining in the half, the bottom fell out for the Cowboys.
Facing a second-and-13 at his own 17-yard line, Romo tried to sneak one in to receiver Terrance Williams, only to have Luke Kuechly come down with a relatively easy interception. He then rumbled down the left sideline to the end zone, the second pick-six thrown by the Cowboys' quarterback on the day.
But Kuechly wasn't done. On the Cowboys' very next snap, Romo tried to hit Witten deep down the seam only to see the Panthers linebacker make a leaping grab of the attempt and haul in his second interception. Thankfully, Kuechly didn't reach the end zone and the Dallas defense buckled down to limit the damage to only three points.
Given the dominance of the Carolina defense, the game was essentially over by the time Luke Bryan hit the stage for the traditional Thanksgiving Red Kettle Kickoff halftime show, the Cowboys trailing 23-3.
Bailey did manage to tack on a 48-yard field goal on the team's first possession of the second half, and then Matt Cassel led the Cowboys on a 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter, even adding the two-point conversion. But in large part, it was all Carolina.
The Cowboys defense actually played well for most of this game, surrendering only one touchdown, which came on a third-quarter drive that had seen them get the stop, only to have the special teams unit commit a penalty to extend the possession. Gifted the first down, the Panthers eventually reached the end zone on a 4-yard rush by quarterback Cam Newton for the score.
In all, though, the Carolina offense finished with 294 yards of offense with Newton throwing for only 165 yards on 16-of-27 passing. Content to work the clock and run the ball, the Panthers did rack up 129 yards rushing.
With the loss, the Cowboys fall to 3-8 on the season, any hopes of reaching the playoffs officially on life support, especially with the injury to Romo. They'll now enjoy an extended 10-day layoff before facing the Redskins on Monday Night Football on Dec. 7.