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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was yet another week wherein the Dallas Cowboys entered a contest as heavy favorites but, this time, the opponent felt as if they might be a bit scrappier than the previous one.
The Carolina Panthers owned a record of 1-8 but mostly due to their offensive ineptitude, but first-overall pick Bryce Young could make any given week the one he finds his groove.
It wasn't this week, though.
Young mostly deferred production to running backs Chuba Hubbard and Mile Sanders, mostly under siege himself by the Cowboys' vaunted pass rush and, ultimately, there wasn't much the Panthers could do to stop the Cowboys whenever [at times] Dallas decided to enforce its will.
Here are the players who will stood out the most in the Queen City:
Micah Parsons, W (for Weapon): If you've never seen a lion eat a panther, you did on Sunday. Parsons was a man possessed from the moment the ball was kicked off at Bank of America stadium — unrelenting in his pursuit of rookie first-overall pick Bryce Young. Parsons had two sacks before the teams broke for halftime, serving notice he is still arguably the most dangerous defensive weapon in the NFL.
Dak Prescott, QB: After a quick three-and-out on their first offensive series of the game, Prescott went into Terminator mode on the second. He walked the Panthers down the field with ease before capping the drive with an 18-yard touchdown to rookie second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker. It was an above average first half for the two-time Pro Bowler, throwing for 126 yards and two touchdowns, but he wasn't done and that included continuing to use his legs to stress the opposing defense for yet another week.
DaRon Bland, DB: If I told you the Cowboys' defense had yet another pick-six on the season, who would you think delivered it with signature required? If you said Bland, and I know you did, you'd be correct. The second-year defensive back continues to be a magnet for not only the ball, but also for the end zone. His pick-six against Young in the fourth quarter ties him for the most in NFL history in a single season, and gives him 11 career interceptions in only 16 NFL starts.
Luke Schoonmaker, TE: It's been a tough road, from the standpoint of being a receiving target, for the rookie second-round pick through the first nine games, but that quickly turned around for him against the Panthers. The aforementioned touchdown toss from Prescott in the first quarter was a great reminder that he's more than simply a fantastic blocker at tight end, but also one who can run down the seam and deliver a striking blow when asked to, and Jake Ferguson deserves honorable mention here not only for the production he contributed on Sunday, but also for being a key reason the rookie hasn't lost his confidence.
CeeDee Lamb, WR: As the offense went up and down during the first two quarters, so did Lamb, or vice versa; and that simply depends on how you look at it. Nonetheless, the All-Pro and record-setting wide receiver made sure to put an imprint on the game before the second quarter came to a close with a five-yard touchdown grab on the Cowboys' final drive of the first half — giving them a 17-3 lead in the process. His streak of 150-yard games has now ended, but not his ability to help propel Dallas to a victory.
Tony Pollard, RB: Quiet as it might be kept, Pollard looked much springier over the past two outings, and especially against the Panthers. He was decisive when going north and south, and averaged roughly four yards per carry over the first two sessions. He was also a contributor as a receiver out of the backfield on Sunday, something he's always had in his toolbox that makes defenses struggle to contain him. Pollard gave the Cowboys a stable force on the ground in Charlotte. His 21-yard touchdown run through contact proves this point quite well.
Damone Clark, LB: It wasn't the best showing initially for the Cowboys' run defense, but Clark was doing his best to keep it from being the driving force behind a possible upset. The former fourth-round pick made it his mission to continually take down Chuba Hubbard in timely situations, and Clark was also sideline to sideline in helping to put a cap on any possible YAC from the Panthers' wideouts. Only days after news landed that Leighton Vander Esch will not return this season, Clark continues to step up and deliver.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE: Those who judge Lawrence by his stat line are missing the full picture. One actual look at the Panthers contest and you can readily see his impact stems from an ability to do multiple things exceedingly well. Already one of the best run defenders at the edge, Lawrence also ate up double teams in Carolina that allowed Parsons to eat hearty. Not to be forgotten in the sack category, however, he also made sure Young knew what it felt like to be hit by a tank.
Brandin Cooks, WR: It was more than simply Lamb and Schoonmaker providing production for Prescott. As is becoming the norm, others got involved as well. Cooks, one week after racking up 173 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Giants, looked like a Madden avatar against the Panthers. It wasn't the same level of explosion demonstrated the week prior, but Prescott did a great job of getting Cooks the ball in space and the latter did the rest; and that included drawing two penalties on the final offensive drive of the first half that ultimately led to a TD to Lamb.
Michael Gallup, WR: Resiliency is the name of the game for Gallup over these past two weeks. His catches have been both timely and impressive, and they're often chain-movers as well. His 19-yard grab from Prescott kick-started the final drive of the first half and, as you've already noted, it led to Lamb getting on the board with a touchdown. Gallup led the team in receiving yards (31) at the half and has become a very nice possession receiver — his violent style of play really beginning to return to form.
Markquese Bell, LB: Yes, his hair is still on fire, or at least he's still playing as if it is. Bell has been a dynamic addition to the linebackers room for the Cowboys in the wake of losing rookie fourth-round pick DeMarvion Overshown in the preseason, but his role is now that much more pronounced with Vander Esch being done for the season as well. Bell led the Cowboys in tackles against the Panthers for a large part of the contest on Sunday, making sure anyone who met him didn't gain much thereafter.