Carolina (8-2) at Dallas (7-3)

  • Game info: 1:00 pm EST Sun Nov 23, 2003
  • TV: FOX
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Before the season started, not many people could have expected a November matchup pitting the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys to carry much significance.

Turns out it may be the biggest game of the week.

Two of the NFC’s division leaders and biggest surprises square off when the Panthers and Cowboys meet at Texas Stadium.

The Panthers went 1-15 just two seasons ago, costing coach George Seifert his job. John Fox took over as coach last season, leading Carolina to a 7-9 record, including wins in four of its last five games.

With the addition of several key players this offseason, including running back Stephen Davis and quarterback Jake Delhomme, Fox has led the Panthers to the best record in the NFC.

”(Receiver) Ricky Proehl, Jake Delhomme, Stephen Davis, (offensive lineman) Jordan Gross. There are a lot of different pieces to our puzzle this year than there was a year ago,” Fox said.

“We are a better football team then we were a year ago, so I think talent has a lot to do with it.”

The Cowboys are undergoing a similar resurgence. After Dallas went 5-11 the last three seasons, Bill Parcells took over as coach and has the Cowboys tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.

Like the Panthers, the Cowboys owe a great deal of their turnaround to an increased focus on defense and discipline.

“Bill Parcells has done a terrific job, and they have got an excellent coaching staff,” Fox said. “They probably operate a little bit like we do, or we operate a little bit like them, however you want to look at it. But there are similar styles, yes.”

A win over the Panthers would move the Cowboys into a tie for the best record in the conference and earn them the tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record.

However, Dallas has been shut out in two of its last four games, including last Sunday’s 12-0 loss to the New England Patriots.

“Sure, we’re in a good position, but we’re going to have to change some things around or that position won’t be good for long,” Parcells said. “I told (the players) I don’t want them to get down on themselves, and that we don’t have that luxury now of doing that. It remains to be seen if we can get back on track soon enough.”

Dallas managed just 291 yards against the Patriots, their third sub-300-yard performance in four games. Quarterback Quincy Carter threw three interceptions in the second half for the Cowboys, who have scored just 31 points in their last four games after averaging 25 in their first six.

“When you hold a team to 12 points, you should have a better chance to win than we did,” Parcells said.

The Cowboys also totaled 15 penalties, five of which were declined.

“Eleven mental errors, four dropped balls, five offensive penalties, three turnovers and a sack,” Parcells said. “This is all on offense. What’s that add up to?”

The Panthers are coming off Sunday’s 20-17 win over the Washington Redskins as Davis beat the team that let him go after last season.

Davis, who ranks second in the NFC with 1,084 rushing yards, scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard run with 1:09 left, just barely getting the ball across the goal line before it was batted away by a Washington defender.

Davis is 37 yards shy of the single-season team rushing record of 1,121, set by Anthony Johnson in 1996, and one rushing touchdown shy of Lamar Smith’s record of seven, set last season.

Sunday’s win was just the latest in a string of gut-wrenching wins for Carolina, which has won only one game this season by more than six points and three in overtime.

“We’re the Cardiac Cats,” defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said. “I’m starting to get tired of it. I think I’m starting to get heart problems.”

Delhomme threw for 317 yards on 20-of-30 passing, and Davis ran for 92 yards on 28 carries.

“The key word is confidence and when you win, it breeds confidence,” Fox said. “When you start experiencing those wins, in particular those close games, it builds confidence and you feel more comfortable and confident when those situations arise again.”

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