To get the win they so desperately need, the Carolina Panthers need to beat a team they can't seem to — at least not in the regular season.
The Panthers have lost eight straight to the Dallas Cowboys, a stretch that dates to 1998. Four of those losses came in Charlotte, where the teams will square off Sunday.
Carolina's only win over Dallas during that span came 10 years ago in the playoffs.
Both teams came into the season with high expectations and were expected to contend for division titles, but instead find themselves plagued by inconsistent quarterback play.
The Cowboys (2-3) have lost two straight, including a tough 31-29 loss last week against Baltimore in which they botched clock management.
The Panthers (1-4) are reeling even more, having lost three straight games before the bye week.
"This one's obviously important because we both have a losing record right now and we both need to get going," said Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. "The sense of urgency will be great on both sides of the ball, I know that."
Dallas coach Jason Garrett said his team needs to start winning the turnover battle, where they're a minus-8 on the year. Romo has thrown nine interceptions, while the Cowboys have only come up with one pick.
"It's something that has really hurt us," Garrett said. "Last year we were among the better teams in that area. It's such a predictive statistic in the NFL."
No one could have predicted the Cowboys would rush for 227 yards and lose last week against Baltimore. The problem this week is they'll be without running back DeMarco Murray, who is out with a sprained foot, and will depend on Felix Jones to carry the load against Carolina.
Jones was a non-factor in Dallas' first four games with three carries for 13 yards. But he showed he can produce if called on, with 18 carries for 92 yards rushing and a touchdown against the Ravens.
Replacement running backs have had success against the Panthers in the past, including this season.
Andre Brown stepped in for Ahmad Bradshaw in Week 3 and ran for a career-best 113 yards and two touchdowns in the New York Giants' 37-6 rout of Carolina.
"I was ready when I was coming in and even more ready right now," Jones said. "It gives you a boost of confidence to go out there and play."
The Panthers are hoping a bye week means a new beginning. They suffered a pair of close losses against Atlanta and Seattle to dig a serious hole.
Cam Newton turned in a stellar season as a rookie in 2011, but continues to struggle when it comes to closing out games.
He fumbled against the Falcons with a chance to put the game away and then one-hopped a pass to tight end Ben Hartsock on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in a loss to the Seahawks.
The Seattle game was perhaps Newton's worst in 21 pro starts as he completed just 41.4 percent of his passes (12 of 29) for 141 yards — both career lows.
That prompted Newton to do some soul searching during the bye week.
He got help from his father Cecil Newton, who told him it's easy for someone to stand out when you're 4-1, but it takes a courageous leader to stand up and lead the troops when you're 1-4.
"At the end of the day, playmakers are going to have to make plays," Newton said. "When that play allows for something to happen, it's not a time for somebody to clutch up and go in a shell. It's time for the flower to grow."
Coach Ron Rivera said Newton's biggest problem has been a lack of consistency.
"He can get hot and you see those flashes of him doing those things and then something will happen that won't be as consistent or right along the lines of what you need," Rivera said. "That's what we're really looking for, not just from him but from the team as a whole — consistency."
Although Newton insists "all of our goals are still achievable," the odds are stacked against the Panthers reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Since 1978, only seven of 156 teams have rebounded from a 1-4 start to make the postseason. None have won the Super Bowl.
"The season is far from a wash," Newton said. "It's time for us to prove it. There's a lot of expectations going into this season. And for us to get the vibe going and pick up the vibe for this whole season, it's just going to have to start this game."
It won't be easy.
The Panthers lost three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, one of the team's emotional leaders and probably its best offensive lineman, to a season-ending foot injury last week. That's had a domino effect on the offensive line with three players shifting to new positions.
"In battle when one soldier dies that's not a time for mourning," Newton said. "You take the loss as a loss, but somebody is going to have to take ownership and pick up the rifle and keep shooting."
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