CHARLOTTE --- After a late surge by the visiting Dallas Cowboys, the Carolina Panthers hung on for a 16-8 victory in their season opener Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott scored on a 4-yard run with 8:51 left to cut the Panthers' 16-0 lead in half, and then the Carolina defense was once again called upon to make a big play - something the unit had done all game.
With 1:39 remaining in the contest, defensive end Mario Addison crunched quarterback Dak Prescott, forcing a fumble that cornerback Captain Munnerlyn recovered to allow Carolina to run out the clock.
When asked about the offense not icing the game after Dallas' turnover on downs in the closing minutes, Addison said, "I’m glad they didn’t because we got to end the game with a sack, forced fumble."
The defense dominated most of the game, holding the Cowboys to 60 yards, zero third-down conversions and no scoring drives in the first half. Linebacker Shaq Thompson was a major piece to the defense's game-winning puzzle, totaling nine tackles and a sack that eventually helped set up the Panthers' first touchdown after a quick Dallas three-and-out.
"The defense started off fast. They are some plays we let them have that we should have never let them have, but that’s what film is for," Thompson said. Thompson also expressed his excitement in the defensive line's performance down the stretch.
"It’s amazing. It’s amazing to watch those guys, even at practice. What they do in the game is what they do at practice. We have an amazing front, we can interchange and rotate and not miss a beat."
While the defense made the big play to seal the win, the offense put all of Carolina's points on the board. Quarterback Cam Newton finished the night 17-of-26 for 161 yards and led the team with 58 rushing yards, including a touchdown in the second quarter.
"It’s still early. I felt extremely comfortable with what he was doing," Newton said of his first game under offensive coordinator Norv Turner. "I understood the game plan going into it and it's still kind of give and take."
Newton also shared his thoughts on the defensive line's crucial stop to secure the game.
"Man, those guys wreck havoc. A lot of havoc. I see it every day in practice," Newton said. "For it to come to fruition in an actual game, you start believing certain things. I'm just happy for those guys. I'm happy for us as a team."
After Newton's touchdown run, the Panthers' next score came by way of a field goal from kicker Graham Gano to close the first half. Their final score of the night came early in the fourth when fullback Alex Armah punched in his first career TD on a 1-yard plunge.
The Panthers will now look ahead to their first road game of the season: a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Atlanta Falcons (0-1).