KICKOFF: Saturday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver.
SERIES: 8th meeting. Dallas leads the series 4-3 and the Cowboys have won
four of the last five. Dallas and Carolina met in a 1996 divisional playoff
Game and a 2003 wild-card game, with the Panthers claiming victories in
2005 RANKINGS: Cowboys: offense 15th (14th rush, 14th pass); defense 10th
(15th rush, 10th pass). Panthers: offense 22nd (22nd rush, 18th pass);
defense 3rd (4th rush, 11th pass).
KEYS TO THE GAME: Cowboys coach Bill Parcells tried leaving inexperienced
OTs Torrin Tucker and Rob Petitti on their own, and the result was QB Drew
Bledsoe taking a beating last Sunday. He's going to have to be more
conservative against the Panthers' strong pass rush, max protecting Bledsoe
on long passing downs. But the best solution would be a strong game from RBs
Julius Jones and Marion Barber to avoid those long passing downs all
together. The Cowboys' once-stout run defense has been torched for a
combined 603 yards over the past four games, and the Panthers will test the
ground early on with RBs DeShaun Foster and Nick Goings with the hope of
opening things up downfield for WR Steve Smith. With WR Drew Carter's speed
adding an extra element last Sunday, don't be surprised to see more four
receiver sets from Carolina.
FAST FACTS: Cowboys: Are the only team with three players with at least 650
receiving yards. ... Have outscored opponents 93-47 in the fourth quarter.
... Bledsoe needs 45 passing yards to pass Dan Fouts (43,041) for
seventh-most all-time. Panthers: QB Jake Delhomme needs two passing yards to
a franchise-record third consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons. ... Smith
needs 10 receptions to break WR Muhsin Muhammad's single-season record of
102 set in 2000.
--LB Kevin Burnett finally earned his first career sack, albeit two weeks
late. Kenyon Coleman originally was given credit for the third-quarter sack
against Kansas City, but the NFL officially changed it to Burnett's.
--DE Greg Ellis will not be having a happy return to North Carolina this
weekend. The former Tar Heel has warned his friends and family that he might
not play much against the Panthers. Ellis is still the team leader in sacks,
but his playing time has severely diminished. With a roster bonus of
$500,000 due in March. Ellis knows he will not be back with Dallas next
--G Marco Rivera (strained neck) has yet to practice this week but the
Cowboys are not ruling him out of Saturday's game against the Panthers. If
Rivera is not ready, Parcells said Andre Gurode would start at right guard.
Gurode started at right guard the past two seasons to less than stellar
reviews from coach Bill Parcells. He was moved to backup center when the
Cowboys signed Rivera in the off-season. Parcells said he is comfortable
with Gurode at guard against the Panthers because he has been a much
improved player this year.
--QB Drew Bledsoe has struggled away from Texas Stadium this year,
throwing 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. He has 11 touchdowns and
three interceptions at home. He has also been sacked 27 times on the road
compared to 12 times at home.
--LB Dan Morgan will play Saturday, but is still experiencing soreness in
both his ankle and shoulder. At this point, Morgan is just fighting to get
through the season and remain on the field.
--RB DeShaun Foster is hoping to pick up where Washington's Clinton
Portis left off last week against Dallas. It won't be easy, as the Cowboys
should be plenty fired up after last week's loss. Foster is probable for
Saturday's game with a shoulder injury.
--WR Steve Smith will command plenty of attention from Bill Parcells and
the Cowboys on Saturday. "I think they have an outstanding player in Steve
Smith," Parcells said. "I think he's one of the top ten players in the NFL.
If I was starting a team and I could pick ten guys, he'd certainly be on it.
I have a lot of respect for him. He's an outstanding player."
--DE Mike Rucker should be plenty fired up for Saturday after getting
snubbed by the Pro Bowl voters. Rucker has better numbers than teammate
Julius Peppers, who did make the Pro Bowl, but was not even voted as an
--QB Jake Delhomme has thrown 20 touchdown passes but has turned the ball
over 20 times this year. Yet that was good enough to get Delhomme to the Pro
Bowl in the quarterback-depleted NFC.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
No Cowboys team has ever started 7-3 and not made the playoffs. Only two
teams in franchise history have finished with a winning record and failed to
make the playoffs: The 1974 Cowboys were 8-6; the 1984 Cowboys were 9-7.
Yet the possibility is very real that the Cowboys (8-6) could win their
final two games, against the Panthers on Saturday and the Rams Jan. 1, and
finish out of the running.
The NFC race is that tight.
But, of course, the Cowboys have no one to blame but themselves.
In losing three of their past four games, the Cowboys look almost nothing
like the team that won seven of its first 10 games.
The defense has allowed an average of 26 points in their past four games.
They have allowed three straight 100-yard rushers.
Offensively, they can't run, block or throw with any consistency.
Yet, to have a chance at the postseason, they must pull it all back
Any chance for the playoffs likely rests on a victory at Carolina on
Coach Bill Parcells and his legendary pedigree can't do it for the
Cowboys. They must do it themselves.
"For a team to take that next step and be as successful as we want to be,
it has to come from the players," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "It can't
be someone from the outside kicking our butt to get us going. It has to come
internally from each guy and player to player to make that happen."
With Stephen Davis sidelined for the remainder of the season, you can
expect running back Nick Goings to play a prominent role down the stretch
and into the postseason for the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers believe they can count on Goings, who posted five 100-yard
rushing games in his second half of last season after they were decimated by
injuries at the running back position.
DeShaun Foster will remain the starter, but Goings will spell him and see
plenty of action on third downs.
"He'll be a guy that I'm sure we'll lean heavily on again this week,"
said quarterback Jake Delhomme.
Goings is a popular figure at Bank of America Stadium, largely because of
the way he goes about his job.
"He doesn't talk or say much," Delhomme said. "He just does everything
the right way. The coaches love him. The players love him. And you saw (at
New Orleans) the different things we can do with him. He can play fullback
for us, or we can have him lined up outside wide.
"He had the big play for us in the two-minute drive before halftime. He's
just a solid player who proved last year how good he can be."
Despite his big finish last season, Goings didn't make a big fuss in the
media and said he never thought about holding out for more money or
demanding a trade like Reuben Droughns.
"Because I love playing for this team," Goings said matter-of-factly.
"Back when I was coming out of college, I was an undrafted free agent and
the Panthers gave me an opportunity that other teams didn't. This is where
my heart is. I didn't think twice about all that other stuff."
So Goings accepted a reduced role to return to Carolina. He entered the
season as the team's third running back and second fullback.
This year he's played mostly on special teams, but with Davis now out for
the season Goings will again be a big part of Carolina's offense.
Last week he had 88 total yards from scrimmage against New Orleans, which
was slightly more than Foster's total.
Leading 10-7 just before halftime, the Panthers drove 64 yards on six
plays in just one minute and 11 seconds to score a crucial touchdown on a
2-yard run by Delhomme. Goings accounted for 42 of the yards on the drive.
"We needed to get some momentum at that point and put some more points on
the board. That was a big drive," Goings said.
Goings said losing Davis to a season-ending knee injury was hard because
he "was such a big part of the team."
But he vows to make the most of his latest opportunity.
And while he's not likely to get quite as many carries as he did in the
second half of the 2004 season, he said he'll be happy with whatever the
team gives him.
"But I just want to be ready for whatever role they give me and play my
heart out for the team," he said.
As week 16 of the NFL season approaches, most fantasy teams still in contention are preparing for…