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Cowboys Tested By Panthers; Found Wanting

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Less than a week removed from Tony Romo's return, the Dallas Cowboys faced perhaps the best team in the NFL and came up far short of their expectations.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There was some excitement about the chances that the Dallas Cowboys would have in the weak NFC East after the team looked much better against the Miami Dolphins in Tony Romo's return from a broken left collar bone last Sunday. The odds were long, as fans knew, but the Cowboys would have a puncher's chance to win the division. Those faint hopes and wild dreams were effectively laid to rest just four days later as the team hosted the Carolina Panthers. Against what may be arguably the best in professional football, Dallas was found wanting.

Under head coach Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker and defensive coordinator, Carolina gets everything started with its defense and so it was on Thanksgiving. Romo was intercepted three times during a disastrous first half that sealed the fate of his team. The opportunistic Panthers defense got started on the third play from scrimmage when Kurt Coleman intercepted a forced pass in the direction of Jason Witten and returned it 36 yards to draw first blood. In the next stanza it was Luke Kuechly who stepped up and took a pass directed at Terrance Williams the opposite way for a score. On the next Dallas offensive play it was the Pro Bowl linebacker who again made a play. His second interception of the half set up the field goal that gave Carolina a 23-3 halftime lead.

As they had proven during the seven game stretch that he was sidelined with an injury, the Dallas Cowboys need their starting quarterback to be the catalyst for success, and they needed him on top of his game to have any hope for victory on Thanksgiving. Clearly it was not the team's day. He was so out of tune that the Cowboys did not even use their timeouts to manage a potential scoring drive before the intermission. It was almost impossible for things to get any worse for the Cowboys.

Almost; that was the operative word. It got worse. By the end of the third quarter fans witnessed something that we had seen twice before. Romo walked off the field with a injured clavicle. There is a pretty good chance with this second injury to his shoulder fans will be treated to the services of  Matt Cassel for the remainder of the 2015 campaign. With faint hopes now dashed, there is no reason to risk further injury to the starting quarterback even if he proves to be able to play. The season is lost and building for the 2016 season.

As things look now the Cowboys will have a high draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, there will be opportunities for young talents to prove their capabilities against the opposition, and there will be chances for the team to experiment with ideas to come. There will not be an opportunity for glory this season. A quote from Tom Landry comes to mind, a message for the coaching staff that now walks in the long shadow that he cast.

When you want to win a game, you have to teach. When you lose a game, you have to learn. - Tom Landry

Right now the Cowboys need to first learn, and then and only then the powers that be need to teach. The Dallas Cowboys have sunk to depths unanticipated at the beginning at the end of the season. Thanksgiving showed us that, but history shows us what is possible. The rebound is the only route open to this team, and that has to begin now. The Dallas Cowboys were tested by the best in the National Football League and they were found wanting.