What We Learned: Panthers at Cowboys

NORMAN WON BATTLE WITH BRYANT: Cornerback Josh Norman didn't need any extra motivation for his matchup against Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, but Bryant gave him some prior to kickoff by talking smack to other Carolina defensive backs.

"He shouldn't have started with my DBs. He shouldn't have started pregame," Norman said. "When he started to come at them, the stuff that he was talking was just outrageous. They came back and told me, I put my thinking cap on and I went to work. I went to a dark place. I went to the bat cave. I went 'Dark Knight' on him."

Norman exited the locker room like a man possessed. He immediately got in the face of Bryant after quarterback Tony Romo unsuccessfully targeted his top wideout deep down the left sideline on the second play of the game.

"The disrespect was just through the roof," said Norman, who was just as intense at the end of the game as he was at the start. "I didn't want him to catch a single ball. I was on him like white on rice."

Bryant finished with just two catches for 26 yards. He caught one pass for six yards against Norman.

COTCHERY CAME UP CLUTCH: This isn't news by any means, but Jerricho Cotchery has a knack for moving the chains on third down. His performance in Dallas was proof of that.

The veteran wide receiver finished with a team-leading five catches for 73 yards, and two third-down receptions particularly stood out.

Carolina, leading 23-6 in the third quarter, faced third-and-17 from its own 39. The Panthers beat the blitz with a 24-yard completion to Cotchery.

"We expected blitz but knew if we could pick it up and identify it, we were going to have guys open," tight end Greg Olsen said. "That's exactly what happened on Cotch's big play, and that was one of the biggest plays of the game."

Later in that drive, Carolina faced third-and-10 from the Dallas 15. Once again, quarterback Cam Newton targeted Cotchery, who made the catch a couple yards short of the marker but picked his way past two Cowboys defenders for 11 yards. Newton rushed for a 4-yard touchdown on the next play.

"My job is to move the chains," Cotchery said. "I'm given those opportunities on third down, and I just try to take advantage."

JOHNSON WORKED OFF SOME RUST: Defensive end Charles Johnson, who recorded one tackle in his first game since Week 3, said he felt good about his return.

"Just a little rusty. I'm going to keep trying to build and get stronger every game," said Johnson, who started opposite Jared Allen. "I feel like once we get the rotation down we are going to be pretty good. We are just feeling out everything right now. We have a lot of guys that can rush the passer."

It was the first time this season Johnson, Allen and Kony Ealy have been active at the same time. Ealy recorded one of Carolina's two sacks, giving him one in five consecutive games.

"I like the D-end rotation," Rivera said. "Kony played really well when he got his opportunities.  It's nice to see Charles play and do the things that he did.  He looked a little bit rusty. He missed a read on one play. I got a little mad at him but he's worked himself back in."

RIVERA CONFIDENT IN HIS DEFENSE: There were times in the game where Rivera could have rolled the dice or looked for more aggressiveness on offense, but he didn't feel it was necessary, not with the way his defense has been playing.

For instance, on fourth-and-3 from the Dallas 38-yard line in the second quarter, Rivera wasted no time sending out the punt team. And in this game, field goals weren't a bad thing.

"A lot of trust. They're playing very well right now," Rivera said of the defense, which limited the Cowboys to 210 total yards. "I figured if we could keep them pinned down in there with the way we were playing defense, we would get better opportunities on the offensive side. We did what we needed to do offensively."

PANTHERS KEPT HARDY QUIET: Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy's first game against his former team was a widely-discussed storyline during the week, but Hardy was a non-factor Thursday.

In fact, Hardy did not record any statistics. It was his first game without a tackle since 2012.

"I really think our guys played well across the board," Rivera said. "It wasn't just about trying to stop one individual."

View game action photos from Carolina's 33-14 win over Dallas.

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