CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Cowboys rookie linebacker DeMarcus Ware has been the center of attention this week. And not because of anything he had done.
Because when San Diego rookie Shawne Merriman was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team on Wednesday, it certainly raised some questions whether the Cowboys made the right choice during the April NFL Draft selecting Ware (11th overall) instead of Merriman, who went one pick later to the Chargers.
But the Cowboys never seemed too concerned about Ware, seemingly convinced he would eventually come out of his shell.
Consider the shell opened here in Carolina.
Ware was just short of dominating, recording all three of the Cowboys' sacks and forcing three fumbles in the process, with the Cowboys recovering one in the second quarter.
It was Ware's first sacks in seven games, having to go back all the way to the Oct. 16 win over the Giants to find his last sacks. This also was Ware's first career multiple-sack game.
"It felt good to finally get a sack - it's been a while," Ware said. "But we thought we could get there today and get some pressure. And that's what we did. I knew I needed to step it up, and I think I was able to."
Ware now has seven sacks, just 1½ behind Greg Ellis (8.5) for the team lead.
But Ellis doesn't seem too concerned about Ware's numbers. In fact, he said a game like this can go a long way toward helping the rookie's confidence.
"He had a phenomenal day," Ellis said. "It's too bad it didn't happen a week earlier or he might have made the Pro Bowl just off this game. It's good for him. He needed that. There has been some stuff pop up that maybe the Cowboys should've drafted the other guy. But I'm glad he stepped up and showed what kind of player he is."
The Cowboys knew they had to contain Carolina Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith to have any shot at beating the Panthers Saturday.
And Smith definitely was contained. Somewhat by the Cowboys and somewhat by himself.
The NFL's leading wide receiver was surprisingly ejected late in the third quarter when he put both hands on an official after being thrown to the ground by Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman on the sideline.
Smith had just one catch for 18 yards before his day ended abruptly with 3:02 left in the third quarter on what was one of the game's crazier plays.
After Ware recorded his third sack of the day, blasting Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme and jarring the ball loose a third time, Smith alertly came back to scoop up the fumble. The receiver then darted across the field to pick up five yards before Newman aggressively dropped him out of bounds, two yards short of the first down.
Apparently upset with Newman's tackle, Smith tried to argue his case to official Michael Banks. But the NFL is cracking down on players touching officials in any way, and after Smith's two-hand grab around the waist to get his attention, not only was he given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, but ejected as well.
Receivers Come Alive
One week after Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn were held to just two catches each, the two starting wide receivers came up huge against the Panthers, both making big plays on the Cowboys game-winning drive.
Glenn not only accounted for the winning touchdown with his 2-yard grab on third-and-one with 24 seconds to play, but also had a 15-yard reception on the first play of the drive.
Johnson, who led the Cowboys with six catches and 89 receiving yards, also had a big 19-yard catch, giving the Cowboys a first down at the Panthers 21 with 1:30 to play.
"Those guys made plays for us today and they've been making them all year," Drew Bledsoe said "That's what we expect out of them. They came through today."
In a play seemingly forgotten based on the topsy-turvy second-half, the Cowboys might not have made even made a game of this had it not been for a third-and-10 conversion from their own 20 while already trailing 10-0 in the first quarter.
Bledsoe rolled out to this right and heaved a pass to a streaking Glenn, who split double coverage to pull in a 51-yard reception despite being interfered with in the process. While the Cowboys declined that, they also were awarded a roughing-the-quarterback penalty, tacking on 15 more yards, all helping set up Julius Jones' first touchdown, getting the Cowboys back in the game.
- Cowboys rookie running back Tyson Thompson somewhat redeemed himself after fumbling away a first-quarter kickoff return that led to a Panthers touchdown and 10-0 lead. But Thompson did give the Cowboys solid field position on the final drive after his 40-yard return put the ball at the Dallas 42.
- The Cowboys entered the fourth quarter with a lead for the first time since the Nov. 20 game against the Lions. It was their first lead going into the fourth quarter on the road since an Oct. 23 loss in Seattle.
- First-year linebacker Ryan Fowler started the game in place of Scott Shanle, who did play in nickel situations. Fowler, who played his college ball at nearby Duke, finished the game with three tackles.
- The 214 rushing yards Saturday was a season-high.
- The 10 rushing first downs tied the season-high.
- Tyson Thompson continues to climb the rookie kickoff return charts. With five returns for 132 yards today he has established rookie club records for kickoff returns (52) and kickoff return yards (1,256).
- Thompson is also now moving up the club's all-time single-season kickoff return charts, just four behind Reggie Swinton's records of 56 returns, set in 2001. Thompson also needs just 72 yards to surpass Swinton's record of 1,327 yards.
- With 89 receiving yards today Keyshawn Johnson now has 742 receiving yards for the season. Witten with nine yards Saturday now has 707 for the year and with 88 yards today, Terry Glenn added to his team-leading 1,092 receiving yards. This is the first time since 1986 the Cowboys have had three receivers over 700 yards and just the third time in club history. The team has never had three receivers with over 800 yards in a season.
- The 34 carries by Jones was a career-high and the second most in club history. Emmitt Smith holds the record with 35 carries against the N.Y. Giants (11/7/94). Smith also had a 34-carry game at Washington (11/24/91).
- This was Jones second two-touchdown game of the season.
- This is the Cowboys second 100-yard rushing game of the season (Barber 127 yards vs. Arizona).
Terry Glenn recorded his seventh touchdown catch of the season today, a single-season career-high . . . With 209 passing yards Saturday, Drew Bledsoe has moved past Dan Fouts into seventh place on the NFL's all-time passing yardage list with 43,205 career yards . . . With three sacks, DeMarcus Ware has posted the third best sack total by a linebacker in club history, just behind Gary Cobb (7.5, 1988) and Anthony Dickerson's 10 ½ set in 1983 . . . Julius Jones ran for 194 yards Saturday, his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and the fourth of his career. The Cowboys are 3-1 when Jones rushes for over 100 yards. The 194 yards was the second-best rushing performance of his career and the fourth best day in Cowboys history.