ARLINGTON, Texas – Look at the box score, and it's not readily apparent that Thursday's loss to Carolina was such a lopsided effort.
The Panthers handled the Cowboys easily to the tune of 33-14. But they did so with just 294 total yards and one offensive touchdown.
Given the fact that the Dallas offense spotted the Panthers two touchdowns, it's easy to overlook what was honestly a solid effort from the Cowboys defense.
"I thought our defense did a really good job in this game," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "They're a good offensive football team. They challenge a lot of different ways. Obviously their quarterback is a dynamic player. They run the ball week in and week out."
The Panthers were limited in those regards on Thursday, though. Newton completed a modest 16-of-27 passes for 183 yards, and he ran for 45 yards and Carolina's lone offensive score. The Panthers ran for 129 yards on the night, but they averaged just 3.5 yards on 37 carries.
Taking all of that into account, there's still one stat category that comes up lacking, and it looms largest of all. The Cowboys failed to force a takeaway for the seventh time in 11 outings on Thursday night. Combined with Tony Romo's three-interception outing, that helped the team's turnover margin drop to minus-12.
The Cowboys' turnover margin and their tally of takeaways – seven – are the worst in the NFL.
"It's glaring at us in the face. We're not getting takeaways on the defensive side of the ball," said Barry Church. "We are holding them to three and outs and doing what we can. We just have to take the ball away."
It feels harsh to criticize the defense in the wake of such a poor outing by the offense, but it's hard to deny the unit appears snake-bitten on that front this year. The Cowboys had their chances against Carolina – a missed opportunity at a muffed punt, a dropped interception by Rolando McClain and a failure to recover a fumbled snap.
The Cowboys missed all three bounces, and the final score helped reflect that lack of chances.
"It seems like for some reason or another the ball's just not bouncing our way right now," Church said. "But we have to find a way to turn it around. We've got to find a way to turn it around."
The score was 33-6, Tony Romo had exited the game and the outcome was all but decided. It didn't stop Matt Cassel from looking for Dez Bryant, and it definitely didn't stop Josh Norman from denying him.
Cassel looked for Bryant twice in the end zone on the Cowboys' 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive that would cut the score to 33-14. Norman successfully defended both balls – one a drop by Bryant an overthrow. He didn't let that go unknown, either, as he threw up Bryant's famous "X" celebration in response.
His play might have been impressive, but he was flagged for his celebrations – a penalty that ultimately helped Cassel find Cole Beasley for a touchdown.
"I wish he hadn't done it, but I'm not a big fan of throwing the flag," said Panthers coach Ron Rivera. "I get it, we're at their place. That's what the referee said to me and I can't argue that. If it would have been a big deal but we were in somebody else's place."
Bryant was targeted eight times on the night, and he finished with a mere two receptions for 26 yards. His longest reception, a 20-yard gain in the third quarter, came against a linebacker.
"I think today he was two for 26 and no touchdowns. I don't know how many he caught on me, but I can think of one and that was 6 yards," Norman told reporters afterward.
It was a rough night overall for the Dallas offense, which tallied just 210 yards on the night. Panthers defenders weren't hesitant to showcase their satisfaction in that – especially considering the Cowboys were favorites in Las Vegas to open the week.
"All week long, we heard how good their offensive line was. And how much Tony was going to come in and carve us up. We heard all that stuff," said Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. "We felt disrespected and we went out there and played like we were capable of playing today. We set the tone early in this game."
Greg Hardy didn't play on the Panthers' first possession of the second half, as he was late exiting the team's locker room. The veteran defensive end remained on the bench without his helmet.
"He got a little treatment at half-time and he was a late coming out," Garrett said.
After sitting the series out, Hardy returned to the field and finished the game. He didn't record any defensive statistics in the loss.
Asked about the details of the injury, Hardy said he had an asthma attack. He said it's nothing new to his football career.
"Had it my whole life," he said.
Morris Claiborne was ruled out of Thursday's game with the hamstring injury he suffered Nov. 15. The fourth-year corner hasn't been able to practice since the injury, and the Cowboys were forced to alter their cornerback situation as a result.
As might be expected, Claiborne didn't exactly enjoy watching his team struggle from the sideline.
"It was very frustrating, especially when you go out there and you have no part of doing anything," he said.
If there's some kind of silver lining, it's that Claiborne thinks he'll be available when the Cowboys travel to play Washington in Week 13. That game isn't until Dec. 7, so Claiborne will have 11 days to prepare himself.
"I feel like if this game was Sunday I would have been able to play," Claiborne said. "But just because it was a short week it was better to be safe."
In his place, Byron Jones enjoyed a much better evening than his first start at cornerback last week. The Panthers only threw for 183 yards, and Jones was credited with two pass breakups.