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Carolina Panthers

What to watch: Panthers vs. Cowboys


Every victory counts the same in the standings, but some victories stand out just the same.

The Panthers desperately need a victory regardless of the opposition but are embracing the chance for a signature victory Sunday, when one of the NFL's signature franchises visits Bank of America Stadium.

"The biggest thing we have to do is win, whether it's the Cowboys or whoever. But anytime you play a high-profile team and you win, it does help you," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "It creates a little excitement and hopefully a little momentum. It helps with your fans and with your players."

The Dallas Cowboys have a richer history than just about every NFL franchise, but they currently have an uphill climb just like the Panthers. While the Panthers are looking to snap a three-game losing skid that has them at 1-4, the Cowboys aren't in much better standing at 2-3.

Here are some key to the Panthers pulling out a Texas-sized triumph.

DO RUN-RUN: In the Panthers' best two offensive games, they've averaged 209 rushing yards. In their worst three offensive games, they've averaged 51 yards.

"It's important," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "Getting the running game going and maintaining consistency with it will open things up for Cam (Newton) and Steve (Smith).

"We've got three backs in the backfield – four if you count the quarterback – that can carry any load for any team."

The Panthers rank a respectable 13th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, so the capability is there. Newton leads the team with 209 yards on the ground and is key to the group's success, but Carolina needs running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as well as Tolbert to be more consistent factors, especially against a Dallas team that leads the NFL in pass defense.


DON'T RUN-RUN: While the Panthers are looking to get their run game in gear coming off their bye week, the Cowboys did just that last week.

Dallas has totaled just 128 rushing yards in the three games leading up to its bye week but came back and battered the Baltimore Ravens to the tune of 227 rushing yards last week.

The Cowboys will be hurt by the expected absence of starting running back DeMarco Murray (foot), though they didn't miss a beat with Felix Jones taking over the primary role in the second half against the Ravens.

The Panthers have been vulnerable to the run, ranking 23rd in the NFL with 127.4 yards allowed per game. They did, however, hold Marshawn Lynch below his 93-yard average in their last outing and need to keep that going Sunday.

BE A-WARE: Panthers offensive lineman Byron Bell has a simple but so-true answer to what makes Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware so good.

"He's DeMarcus Ware," Bell said.

Ware's numbers speak for themselves. He's started six consecutive Pro Bowls and is already well on his way to a seventh straight season with double-digit sacks. He will undoubtedly make some plays against the Panthers, but Carolina and its new-look offensive line – minus Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil - can't let Ware take over the game.

"It's very obvious that they have one of the best defensive players if not the best in DeMarcus Ware," Newton said. "His pass rush, you've just got to control that and chip him as much as we can because we can't let them dictate to the offense and get us in obvious passing situations."

TONY'S TWO SIDES: Quarterback Tony Romo has a similar ability to shape the game, but it's just not always the shape the Cowboys have in mind.

At his best, Romo can put the Cowboys on his shoulders and lead them to victory. At his worst, he can be the primary reason victory eludes them.

The Panthers obviously must be ready for Romo's best, which Rivera thinks is pretty darn good.

"I compare him to Brett Favre," Rivera said. "He has a little bit of that gunslinger mentality - a strong arm, makes quick decisions and gets the ball out fast. He's a competitor. He plays hard and wants to win."

If there's one common denominator that determines Romo's level of play, it's how much time he has to do his job.

"We've got to get in his face, and we've got to hit him," Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson said. "We've also got to stick with our coverages because he's good on his foot and extend plays while still looking downfield."


PIVOTAL PLAYS: While Romo's nine interceptions are second-most in the league, the Panthers have already returned two interceptions for touchdowns, the first time they've done that in one season since 2006.

In a game pitting the two NFC teams yet to total 100 points, a play like that could determine the outcome.

Both teams are in desperation mode, so look for both teams to play well. One turnover, a big play on special teams or an ill-timed blown assignment on defense could make all the difference.

Fuel Up To Play 60 Kids Combine Located on the Panthers' practice field adjacent to Bank of America Stadium and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free, interactive area promotes youth fitness through a variety of football skills and drills for children and their families. Activities include 40-yard dash, vertical jump, wide receiver/quarterback challenge, TopCats dance studio and inflatable obstacle course.
Panthers Lair Located on the corner of Mint Street and Morehead Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for photos at the 107.9 The Link booth from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Sir Purr appearing throughout the morning. Visit the AT&T Fantasy Football Lounge to find out how you can make your tailgating and game day experience even better. At the Bridgestone Consumer Interactive Tire Experience, enter the Ulimate Journey Sweepstakes, compete on the Xbox Madden 13 gaming kiosk and see the Bridgestone Tire advisor. Kick virtual field goals at the Ford vehicle display and make your next home in Charlotte at The Vue.
Catwalk Located outside Bank of America Stadium's North Gate on Graham Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for pictures from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the WBT 1110-AM booth. Throw a virtual football with Verizon, and learn about protecting your home from CPI Security. Support Keep Pounding and Cam Newton's "Take the Ball" program with Carolinas Healthcare System. Get information about the 2012 ACC Championship at Bank of America Stadium.
Invocation Derwin Gray - Transformation Church, Indian Land, S.C.
Of Colors
Gaston County Sheriff's Office
National Anthem The Farm
Halftime Sir Purr Bowl - Youth Football Exhibition

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