CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers are beginning to feel like they're stuck in a scene from "Groundhog Day," finding ways to lose close football games over and over again.
"We've been in every game, especially these last three," said wide receiver Brandon LaFell. "We've led. We have had the chance to go win the game on offense and we just didn't do it. We got to break this cycle because if we keep playing like this we're not going to be able to make the playoffs."
Did someone say playoffs?
Right now, quarterback Cam Newton said the Panthers (1-5) would settle for a win.
Newton, who finished 21 of 37 for 233 yards with one touchdown and an early interception in the red zone, said he doesn't know why the Panthers can't win close games.
"I think we've just got to make more plays," Newton said. "It feels like we've been finding a way to lose the game rather than win it, offensively, defensively, on special teams. But everybody has to do better, including myself. Just take accountability."
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers need to follow their team motto: Keep pounding.
"No one said it was going to be easy. It's not," Rivera said. "We know that. We are going to continue to work and look at some things and look to change some things. We will find solutions. You just have to keep pounding away."
The Panthers came in wanting to establish the run and even changed up their running back rotation, starting Jonathan Stewart over DeAngelo Williams. Stewart was limited to 35 yards on 10 carries and Williams only carried twice for 4 yards.
Newton was the team's leading rusher with 64 yards on six carries, most of those coming off scrambles rather than designed runs.
The Panthers finished fifth in points last season, averaging 25.3 points per game, but have scored more than 14 points in only two of their six games this year.
"Instead of keeping the game close, I'm looking forward to a game where I ... we put up 35 points. Everybody does," Newton said.
Meanwhile, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo showed he still knows how to win a close game.
Romo led the Cowboys into field-goal range and Dan Bailey converted a 28-yarder with 3:25 remaining to lift the Dallas Cowboys to a 19-14 win on Sunday.
Bailey had four field goals and Romo threw for 227 yards and a touchdown as the Cowboys defeated the Panthers for the ninth straight time in the regular season. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Cowboys (3-3) and helped ease some pressure from their highly criticized 31-29 loss to Baltimore last week in a game marred by poor clock management.
Romo said the Cowboys never bought into the idea that the sky was falling after last week's loss.
"You know that every week you're either great or terrible — or at least semi-terrible or semi-great," Romo said. "What you find in this league is all you need to do is figure out how to get better and play your best football when it counts."
This game had its share of drama — and controversy.
On a fourth-and-1 at their 39 with 2:11 remaining and trailing by one, the Panthers caught Dallas' defense trying to change personnel, and Newton rushed to the line. He quickly took the snap and completed a pass to Greg Olsen for an apparent first down, but officials ruled the Cowboys called timeout before the snap.
On the next play, cornerback Morris Claiborne collided with Panthers receiver Louis Murphy before the ball arrived, but no flag was thrown and the Cowboys took over on downs.
"I felt like I got pushed early," Murphy said. "He kind of hooked me and pushed me in the back before the ball got there."
Claiborne saw it differently.
"I felt I had good coverage," he said.
The Cowboys took over and ran more time off the clock, but on third-and-4 at the Carolina 18, running back Phillip Tanner lost 2 yards. Bailey added his fourth field goal — a 38-yarder — with 53 seconds left.
Garrett said he made the decision to run the ball because he was confident his defense, ranked second in the league, could hold the Panthers.
"We trust our defense immensely," Garrett said. "Our defense is outstanding and they've played great all year long."
Romo agreed with the call.
"You weigh what coverages they've been playing throughout the day," Romo said. "You also look at how well your defense has played throughout the day. ... It's very hard to be in their position, 53 seconds left, and you need a touchdown."
With no timeouts left, the Panthers weren't able to get past midfield on their final possession.
NOTES: Cowboys WR Dez Bryant started despite a groin injury. On Bryant's first play he was penalized for unnecessary roughness after shoving Panthers players following a punt return. ... Cowboys C Phil Costa was carted off the field in the second quarter with his right leg in an air cast. ... The Panthers were without LB Jon Beason and CB Chris Gamble, while the Cowboys played without RB DeMarco Murray.
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