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Cowboys 21, Panthers 7

Defense lifts Dallas

By Jaime Aron
Associated Press / September 29, 2009

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ARLINGTON, Texas - Terence Newman dived into the end zone, threw the ball into the air, and exhaled. The Dallas Cowboys were headed to victory and their maligned defense was the main reason for it.

Newman returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown with 5:07 left, cracking open a tight game and sending the Cowboys to a 21-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers last night.

Dallas (2-1) came into the game without a takeaway or a sack, the latter number an especially sorry stat for last year’s NFL leaders. But the Cowboys harassed Jake Delhomme into three sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble - and, most importantly, forced him and the Panthers (0-3) into four straight three-and-outs to start the second half. Two sacks and the fumble came on Carolina’s final drive.

Tony Romo moved the ball well all night, but struggled to turn deep drives into points.

Dallas was leading only 13-7 when Newman picked off a ball intended for Steve Smith and zipped toward the right corner of the end zone, hurtling in as he was caught from behind.

Teammates mobbed him in celebration while a loud crowd of 90,588 savored the likelihood of the Cowboys’ first victory in their new $1.15 billion home, a week after a last-second loss to the New York Giants.

Romo bounced back from an ugly three-interception outing by playing very carefully. He was 22 of 33 for 255 yards with no touchdowns - but also no turnovers. He didn’t throw deep too often and rarely into traffic. He had a chance to give Dallas a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, but missed on short lobs into the end zone to Roy Williams and Martellus Bennett, which gave Carolina hope.

“You’re always frustrated and disappointed when you don’t play to what you feel like you’re capable of. That was me last week,’’ Romo said.

Delhomme blew it with the interception to Newman on the ensuing possession, and now his season and Carolina’s are going to face some heavy scrutiny.

The Panthers have gone from 12-4 division champs to their worst start since 1998, when they started 0-7. Delhomme has 15 turnovers in his past 16 quarters.

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