CHARLOTTE, N.C. –After defensive captain Sean Lee sprained his toe in the third quarter, there was plenty of pressure on veteran fill-in Dan Connor to hold his own. Thankfully he was in comfortable surroundings.
Connor spent the first four years of his career with the Panthers before coming to Dallas as a free agent this offseason. He lost out to Bruce Carter in a training camp battle to start alongside Lee, but has received ample playing time on special teams and spelling the starters defensively. Sunday was his most extended action of the season, and probably the best he's played.
Lee wasn't able to return to the game, but didn't anticipate being sidelined long, expressing optimism he could return next week against the Giants. A Penn State teammate, Connor was solid in Lee's absence.
He was credited with only two tackles on the official scorer's sheet – including a crucial third-and-one stop of Cam Newton - but was in on several other plays, and broke up a pass.
A week after putting up one of his best games as a pro, with 13 catches against the Baltimore Ravens, wide receiver Dez Bryant was down again Sunday, rattled right from the start.
Bryant committed a personal foul penalty following his very first play, a punt return. From there, he caught only two passes on the day, for 14 yards, suffered a blow to the head that left him undergoing concussion tests, exhibited questionable judgment on punt returns and dropped what would've been a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
And for the second week in a row, Bryant blamed his crucial drop on contact by the cornerback. In Baltimore, Bryant claimed he was interfered with on the two-point conversion pass that would've tied the game with less than a minute to play. This time he said the physical play caused him to lose concentration before the ball arrived.
Despite Bryant's inconsistency, the Cowboys aren't giving up hope he'll find a groove.
"Man-to-man, by himself, a good option, throw the ball to Dez Bryant. Close, right?" head coach Jason Garrett said. "We'll keep giving him chances in those situations. He makes a lot of plays for us."
A week after committing 13 penalties for the third time this year, the Cowboys improved their discipline on both sides of the ball. They were flagged just six times, for 43 yards.
Carolina, by comparison, was flagged nine times for 71 yards. While it wasn't a flawless game, the Cowboys at least played fairly clean after an ugly start, with two special teams penalties and a kickoff out of bounds in the first five minutes.
In Baltimore, pre-snap penalties plagued the Cowboys offense, but they committed only one false start this time. It wasn't a clean game overall, but it might've been a step in the right direction.
"You know that the little things matter," quarterback Tony Romo said. "The little stuff, lining up the right way, going the right depth, these things make the difference between winning or losing."
- Sunday's win gave Dallas its fifth straight win over Carolina to mark the longest win streak of the series and to tie the Cowboys longest current win streak against a single opponent (Tampa Bay).
- The win also allowed the Cowboys to remain undefeated in regular season games played in Carolina (5-0).
- Miles Austin's five catches Sunday upped his career total to 236 to pass Herschel Walker (232) and Terrell Owens (235) for 14th in franchise history.
- Austin's touchdown grab gave him 32 career scoring receptions to give him sole possession of ninth in franchise history, snapping a tie with Lance Rentzel (31).
- Morris Claiborne intercepted his first career pass Sunday when he dove in front of a Cam Newton pass in the end zone intended for Louis Murphy.
- Brian Moorman punted four times for a gross average of 49.3 and a net of 48.3. His 48.3-yard net was the fourth-highest in a game with at least four punts in his career.
- Sunday's win was Tony Romo's 50th career win as a starter. Romo also earned his first career win as a starter in Carolina (10/29/06). Romo became just the fourth Dallas quarterback with 50 career wins under his belt, joining Roger Staubach, Danny White and Troy Aikman.
- Romoopened Sunday's game with a completion on his first nine consecutive passes.
- DeMarcus Ware's half sack Sunday gave him 106.0 for his career to tie Ed Jones for the third spot on the club's all-time (unofficial) sack leaders list.