Before a stadium that appeared to have been relocated to Texas judging by the fact that about 80% of the people inside it were wearing Dallas jerseys and cheering for the Cowboys, Dallas whipped Carolina, 33-10. The worst play for Carolina came when rookie quarterback Bryce Young threw another pick-6 — his third of the season — in a disastrous fourth quarter.
Against one of the NFL’s best teams, Carolina (1-9) kept it a one-score game for much of the afternoon. When the fourth quarter began, Dallas (7-3) led by a modest 17-10 score.
“We weren’t able to hang in from there,” Panthers head coach Frank Reich said, “and it got out of control.”
The Cowboys marched down the field and scored on an explosive 21-yard run from running back Tony Pollard, making it 24-10 with 13:58 to go. And then came Young’s pick-6, when he was intercepted by Dallas cornerback DaRon Bland, who somersaulted, got up and returned the ball 30 yards for his fourth pick-6 TD of the season to tie an NFL record.
“Just got to make a better decision and a better throw,” Young said. “That’s on me.”
The Cowboys ended up outscoring Carolina 16-0 in the fourth quarter after a late field goal, which was gifted to them by a Young fumble. Dallas thoroughly bamboozled Young, who was under constant pressure. Young was sacked seven times on the day and turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter, although the Panthers took some solace that the rookie kept getting up and finished the game.
“He physically is one tough dude,” Reich said of Young.
Carolina had a season-low 187 total yards and only 13 first downs. Young was 16-for-29 for 123 yards, with one touchdown pass, one interception and one lost fumble.
The 23-point loss means the Panthers continue to have the NFL’s worst record, and it puts further pressure on Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer — both of whom could lose their jobs at any time if owner Dave Tepper gets impatient enough with the team’s lack of progress.
As we all know, Tepper does tend to get impatient, and he’s not at all averse to firing a head coach in midseason. Counting interim coaches, Tepper has employed five different head coaches since he bought the team in 2018.
In fact, it was in a very similar situation last year that Matt Rhule got fired in midseason — a lopsided October home loss in Charlotte to San Francisco in that case, in front of a sea of 49ers red. With the Panthers 1-4, Rhule (in his third season at the time) got fired the next day. Reich is in the first year of a four-year contract with Carolina.
Reich said after the game that he understood the frustration of Panthers fans, many of whom sold their tickets to Dallas supporters. Carolina is in the midst of its sixth straight losing season.
“It’s very frustrating,” Reich said. “When you work hard, and you believe in the guys you’re doing it with — and I believe in our coaches and players — not getting the results you want is frustrating. So I’m frustrated most of all for them, but I’m certainly frustrated for the fans as well. I’ve been in this game a long time.
“I’ve had a great appreciation for fan bases wherever I’ve been and what that means to a team and what that means to a city. ... You want it to happen overnight. Sometimes it takes longer than you want. But you have to keep your head down. Be strong-willed. Keep the vision clear. Come to work every day. And you’ve got to be able to fight your way through the tough times.”
The Panthers’ defense played decently for much of the game, although it temporarily came undone with a barrage of avoidable personal fouls on third downs late in the second quarter.
“It was brutal,” Reich said of that stretch. “.... That was a really bad sequence.”
Those penalties led to a Dallas TD and a 17-3 halftime lead for the Cowboys. And given that this anemic Panthers team only came in averaging 17 points per game, that lead sounded like and turned out to be insurmountable.
Brian Burns, the edge rusher considered the Panthers’ best player and a two-time Pro Bowler, has been with the team and has never had a winning season.
“We had a lot of high hopes coming into this year, as everybody does,” Burns said. “But things ain’t going our way right now. We just gotta keep going, keep chopping....You’ve got to go through these rainy days, and I’ve been going through them for a while. We all have.”
Carolina’s offense had actually practiced the silent count in practice during the week, a rarity for home games, due to the expected number of Cowboys fans, and used it some in the game. The Panthers, with Reich calling the plays again after offensive coordinator Thomas Brown had done it for the previous three weeks with little appreciable success, made three fourth-down conversions in one epic third-quarter drive that lasted 17 plays and nearly nine minutes.
The Panthers ended up scoring on that drive on a 4-yard pass from quarterback Bryce Young to Tommy Tremble, and that cut the Cowboys’ lead to 17-10. For a moment, there was hope.
That was pretty much the lone highlight, though, for the Panthers. And it doesn’t get any easier: their next three games are on the road.
Then again, Sunday’s may as well have been.