CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—Tony Romo found a way to put a smile back on Dallas coach Bill Parcells’ face.
Romo rallied the Cowboys from a 14-point first-quarter deficit, throwing for 270 yards and a touchdown, and Julius Jones ran for 94 yards and a score to help the Cowboys beat the Carolina Panthers 35-14 Sunday night. The Cowboys set a team record with 25 fourth-quarter points.
“He’s a guy who’s been miserable all week,” said receiver Terrell Owens, Romo’s top target with nine catches for 107 yards. “I asked him coming off the field on Friday, I asked him how it was going, and he said he doesn’t like to get his butt kicked. As a team, we’re tired of losing, we know we have a decent team. We just have to go out and play like it.”
Romo, starting in place of the benched Drew Bledsoe, showed poise in slowly leading the Cowboys (4-3) back, using a variety of short passes to different receivers.
Early in the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-12 from the Carolina 21, Romo sidestepped pressure and fired a 16-yard pass to Jason Witten. But the drive stalled when Romo misfired to Witten in the end zone on third down, and Mike Vanderjagt kicked a 24-yard field goal to cut the Panthers’ lead to 14-13.
On the ensuing kickoff, Sam Hurd ripped the ball from Brad Hoover and recovered the fumble at the Carolina 14. On the next play, Jones ran untouched up the middle for the touchdown. The Cowboys added the 2-point conversion when Romo faked a draw and threw a pass to Owens to make it 21-14.
“It’s been tough, you never know, the change that we made at quarterback,” Romo said. “You never know what you’re going to get … with a new starter who is untested. I was anxious just like Bill was to see what we were going to do out there tonight.”
Owens was impressed by Romo’s poise.
“Tony gives us a different change of pace,” Owens said. “He gets the ball out quick and he gave us some chances. Everybody came up with some big plays today. Jason Witten played tremendous over the middle.”
Dallas sealed the win when Roy Williams intercepted Jake Delhomme’s throw on Carolina’s possession after Jones’ touchdown. Delhomme lost another fumble with under 2 minutes to go, Carolina’s third turnover in the fourth quarter.
“This is about as poor of a performance in the fourth quarter that I have been associated with,” coach John Fox said. “I apologize for all the people who paid for tickets.”
Marion Barber had touchdown runs of 3 and 14 yards late as Parcells won a game after trailing by 14 points in the first quarter for only the second time in his career. The victory justified his decision to sit Bledsoe and end his streak of 70 consecutive starts. Bledsoe paced the sideline for most of the game, wearing a visor and occasionally glancing down at the play chart on his wrist, while applauding Romo’s performance.
“Drew actually came up to me before the game (and) said he was rooting for me,” Romo said. “Drew’s a really, really class act. He’s a very pleasant guy, and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Drew.”
Romo completed 24 of 36 passes and had one interception, which led to Steve Smith’s 24-yard touchdown run that made it 14-0 in the second quarter.
But the Panthers (4-4) were plagued by mistakes as they lost their second straight, blowing double-digit leads in both. Instead of Romo struggling in his first NFL start, it was Delhomme, making his 62nd straight start, who had problems. He was 17-of-31 for 149 yards and an interception.
Smith, Michael Gaines, DeShaun Foster and Keyshawn Johnson all dropped passes. Johnson’s might have been a touchdown in the third quarter, spoiling his first game against Dallas since he was released in a salary cap move so the Cowboys could sign Owens.
“It’s a team game. We all didn’t get it done. We need to get better,” Delhomme said.
Smith was angered when asked about his two drops, and his fumble of a punt return as the Panthers’ once promising season has taken a turn for the worse.
“Just keep keeping your stats,” Smith said.
The Panthers were even plagued by a coaching miscue. Fox called a timeout late in the first half that wiped out Richard Marshall’s blocked field goal. Given a second chance, Vanderjagt kicked a 38-yarder to make it 14-10 at halftime.
“Hopefully with the bye coming that will give us a chance to get healthy and maybe find some guys who can finish games,” Fox said.
Foster rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown for Carolina, which lost starting cornerback Ken Lucas to a groin injury in the first quarter, forcing rookie Richard Marshall to alternate coverage on Owens and Terry Glenn.
In a season filled with controversy, Parcells left the field with a grin.
“We haven’t been having a lot of fun around here. They’re having fun right now,” Parcells said. “That’s the thing that I enjoy the most. When I see the faces of those players.”
Cowboys rookie Patrick Watkins, who had started the first six games at free safety, was inactive. Watkins, who had been beaten for big plays of late, was replaced by Keith Davis in the starting lineup. … Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) missed his third straight game. … Panthers kicker John Kasay was well short on a 65-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half.