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Know your history: The Cowboys vs Panthers matchup

The Cowboys cannot afford to lose this game for a few reasons.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

In 1995, the NFL welcomed two expansion teams with the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars. Since then, only two new teams have been added to the NFL: the Browns in 1999 (officially speaking, that was the continuation of the same franchise, even though it was a brand new organization in reality) and the Texans in 2002.

For being such a young franchise, the Panthers have faced the Cowboys quite often. The 14 total matchups against Dallas is the second lowest of any NFC team, but the Cowboys have never gone more than three seasons without playing the Panthers. That trend continues this Sunday, since the last time these two teams played was in the season opener for the 2018 season.

That game didn’t end well for Dallas. The offense struggled for most of the game, and the Panthers won by a score of 16-8. In many ways, that was the game that really started the countdown on Scott Linehan’s tenure, as the coach was let go following that year. But both teams are very, very different now. Matt Rhule leads the Panthers today, although Carolina initially wanted Mike McCarthy, who is of course in Dallas. Cam Newton and much of the Panthers’ stout defenses from the Ron Rivera years are gone. Now, it’s Sam Darnold’s team.

And, for what it’s worth, the last time Darnold faced the Cowboys went really poorly for Dallas. Like that game against the Panthers in 2018, the Cowboys’ loss to the Jets in 2019 started the countdown on the tenures of Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard after Darnold called out the defensive scheme’s predictability.

That probably won’t happen again this week, but Darnold is enjoying a career renaissance in his first three games in Carolina. On the flip side, Prescott has become a completely different quarterback since his last game against this team, refining his mechanics to become a much more complete player. But this week’s matchup between Darnold and Prescott won’t be the first big quarterback battle between these teams.

Interestingly, the first game ever between the Cowboys and Panthers came in the playoffs. In 1996, the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys went 10-6 and won the division. They demolished the Vikings 40-15 in the Wild Card round before traveling to Carolina. The Panthers, in just their second season as a franchise, finished the year on a seven-game winning streak to go 12-4 behind the arm of Pro Bowler Kerry Collins.

The duel between Collins and Troy Aikman wasn’t exactly a shootout. Aikman threw three interceptions and just one touchdown. Three field goals and a safety by the Panthers helped Dallas score in a game where the offense appeared inept. Meanwhile, Collins threw two touchdowns but barely completed half of his passes in the game. In the end, the Panthers won 26-17 and ended the Cowboys’ run at a repeat. In many ways, the early exit from the playoffs was the beginning of the end for head coach Barry Switzer, who was fired a year later.

Sensing a theme? It gets better (worse?): the Cowboys’ next game against the Panthers came in the 1997 season, their first regular season contest against each other. Dallas lost 23-13, making it their third straight loss. They lost their remaining two games that year before Switzer was officially out.

Apparently, firing Switzer was all it took to straighten things out, since that was the last time the Cowboys would lose a regular season game to the Panthers until 2015. Most fans remember that game, too. Tony Romo had made a triumphant return the week before and broken the Cowboys’ seven-game losing streak in the rain in Miami. But the undefeated Panthers were up next, and on Thanksgiving no less. Romo, who was obviously still not at 100%, threw three picks and had two of them returned for touchdowns. Thomas Davis sacked him in the third quarter and ended Romo’s, and the team’s, season.

The only time the Panthers beat the Cowboys between Switzer’s firing and Romo’s injury came in the postseason again. The 2003 Cowboys, led for the first time by Bill Parcells, miraculously went 10-6 with Quincy Carter at quarterback. Their gift for making the playoffs was going on the road against the Panthers, whose Jake Delhomme-led offense eventually took them to the Super Bowl that year. They made quick work of the Cowboys, winning 29-10. The next year for the Cowboys started with Carter’s release for failing a drug test, leaving the team under control of a 41-year old Vinny Testaverde.

To summarize: bad things happen when the Cowboys lose to the Panthers.

Dallas leads the regular-season series 9-3 and are 0-2 against Carolina in the playoffs. In an effort to avoid any bad juju, the Cowboys need to win this one. Improving to 3-1 on the year would also be a big deal.

As we do every week we ran a simulation for this week’s Dallas Cowboys game on Madden. The popular video game saw the Cowboys losing to both the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles (so it was obviously incorrect)... here is how things went against the Panthers.

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