Well, at least that’s over. The Cowboys went into Charlotte to kick off their season and came out completely flat, especially on offense, and lost 16-8. There wasn’t a lot to like about the way Dallas played, and the Panthers didn’t look particularly great either, but here are five plays that shaped the game.
DeMarcus Lawrence recovers a fumble in goal line stand
For how ugly the offense made things look, the defense certainly showed up. Carolina was driving on their first offensive possession of the game, and it seemed as if the Panthers would draw first blood as they got in the red zone. The defensive line, nicknamed the Hot Boys, had other things in mind.
On third-and-two from the Dallas five-yard line, Christian McCaffrey took the ball up the middle, looking for at least a first down. Instead, Daniel Ross stripped the ball and DeMarcus Lawrence pounced on it. The turnover didn’t lead to a score, but it was a huge stop for the defense that shifted momentum early on and showed that this unit isn’t going to simply lay down and roll over with their backs against the wall.
Christian McCaffrey gets fed like Zeke, makes it first and goal
Later on, in the second quarter, the Panthers were putting together a solid drive and pushing into Dallas territory. On second-and-ten from the Dallas 22-yard line, McCaffrey got the ball and bruised his way through several defenders, smacking heads at least twice, and gained a hard earned 13 yards to make it first-and-goal.
Two plays later, Cam Newton ran in for the first score of the game. Given that the Cowboys offense had yet to cross the 50-yard line, the Panthers’ score was a significant momentum swing, and McCaffrey’s big run set it all up.
Dak Prescott badly under-throws a wide open Blake Jarwin deep
This play could have changed the whole complexion of the game. With around three minutes left in the first half, the Cowboys were trailing 7-0 and had a third-and-seven at their own 36-yard line. Prescott scrambles out of the pocket and has open field to attempt a run for the first down, or he can throw it to a wide open Blake Jarwin who is behind the defense on busted coverage.
Prescott attempts the throw but badly under-throws it and it hits the ground at Jarwin’s feet. If he hits his tight end in stride, it’s likely a touchdown. If he just gets hit to him, it’s a Cowboys first down at the Panthers 30-yard line at a minimum. Instead the Cowboys punt.
Brett Maher misses a 47-yard field goal
It’s hard to put into words just how shocked some were when Dan Bailey, the second most accurate kicker in NFL history, was cut in favor of Brett Maher, who hasn’t kicked a field goal in the regular season.
Until Sunday, that is. After yet another stalled drive on offense, the Cowboys realized they were close enough for a 47-yard field goal. Maher, who hit a 57-yarder in preseason, marched out to prove himself as the successor to Mr. Bailey. He had good distance, but the kick was to the right. Not only did it remind everyone of the fresh wound of Bailey’s release, but it took the air out of a team that desperately needed points, and kept the score at 10-0 with just under three minutes left in the third quarter.
Dak Prescott fumbles in crunch time
When the offense finally woke up, Dak Prescott executed a good option pitch to Ezekiel Elliott to score, and then ran in for a two-point conversion. Another defensive stop gave Dallas the ball with just under two minutes to go in the game and down 16-8. Prescott had a golden opportunity to lead a touchdown drive and get a two-point conversion to tie it up and go into overtime.
Instead, on third and seven, Prescott ended up scrambling out of the pocket and Mario Addison sacked him from behind, simultaneously knocking the ball loose. Captain Munnerlyn fell on the ball to seal the game, and Week One was over.