CHARLOTTE — The Panthers have very little margin of error at the moment.
When they're the ones making mistakes, they have almost none.
The Panthers fell 33-10 to the Cowboys Sunday at Bank of America Stadium on a day with mostly solid defense, limited offense, and the kind of mistakes that have become too common.
The Panthers (1-9) committed far too many penalties when they could barely afford them, helping a Cowboys offense that didn't need it. And even when they put together the kind of drive they've needed, Bryce Young followed with a pick-six (his third of the season) in the fourth quarter.
But this one started unraveling along the way, and much earlier.
Just before halftime, the Cowboys tacked on a touchdown to go up 17-3 at the break on a drive marked by three costly penalties.
From Eddy Piñeiro kicking off out of bounds to give them the ball at the 40, to unnecessary roughness penalties on Amaré Barno and DeShawn Williams, there were too many instances of mistakes at the wrong times.
Barno's was at least somewhat defensible, as he was flagged for tackling a scrambling Dak Prescott as he slid, on the borderline of what gets called sometimes and what doesn't. Williams' penalty on the other hand was bizarre, as he just pushed Cowboys receiver KeVontae Turpin down from behind at the end of a play.
It was unnecessary at any point. Against a team that scored 49 last week and is among the league's most efficient offensively when it was a one-score game, it was wholly unnecessary.
The Panthers continued to play reasonably well on defense, but they're being put in positions where they have to play perfectly. That's unsustainable against an opponent of this caliber.
— The Panthers actually ran well and with intent early.
Since they came into the game averaging 90.3 yards per game on the ground (27th in the league), that was a promising start.
The problem was, there was nothing to go with it through the air, as they had 107 yards at halftime. And when they fell behind in the second half, it was hard to continue running.
The Cowboys had three sacks in the first half, with all three coming on third downs.
Dallas has the kind of talent in the defensive front seven to create problems for anyone, as they've shown through the year. But the Panthers didn't have an answer for Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence when it mattered most.
The Cowboys finished the game with seven sacks, the most allowed by the Panthers in a single game this year.
— The Panthers put together perhaps their best drive of the season — which was almost cut short, but ended up being their longest in years as well.
They cobbled together a 17-play, 70-yard touchdown drive (which took 8:58 off the clock) in the third quarter to cut the Cowboys lead to 17-10.
Punter Johnny Hekker was on the field, and they were ready to punt it away, but a running into the kicker penalty gave them a decision on fourth-and-2. They elected to go for it, and it turned into a good idea.
Young hit (guess who) Adam Thielen for the conversion, and he'd hit him again on a subsequent fourth down. Sanders also converted on a fourth-and-short, leading to Tommy Tremble's 4-yard touchdown.
It was the drive they've needed for some time and their first 17-play scoring drive since 2020.
But there was nothing to follow it.
View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 11.