By most measures, the Cowboys’ defense played well enough. They held the Panthers to only one touchdown, and forced field goals on four additional possessions.
But the Cowboys had no takeaways in a game for the seventh game this season, and they continue to rank last with seven. The lack of takeaways became obvious against the Panthers.
Carolina returned two interceptions by Tony Romo for touchdowns, and another interception turned into a field goal.
“We have to find a way to get turnovers,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “If you look at their defense, they had two turnovers for touchdowns and three total. We weren’t able to match that and that was a big deal in the game. That was really the difference. We have to find a way to get more turnovers more consistently.”
The issues ran deeper than that for the defense, as well.
The Panthers were 8-of-16 on third downs, including three of at least nine yards. The biggest head-scratcher came on a third-and-17 in the third quarter when Carolina quarterback Cam Newton connected for a 24-yard pass play with Jerricho Cotchery.
“Just got to get back to the drawing board,” cornerback Brandon Carr said of allowing the long third-down conversions. “Just figure it out and go out and get better.”
For the most part, the defense has played well enough. But consistently losing the turnover battle is the glaring hole.
The Cowboys can’t seem to catch a break. On Thursday, a near interception went through linebacker Rolando McClain’s hands, and then a fumble on a punt play that hit an unknowing Panther and bounced right back into his hands.
As executive vice president Stephen Jones said, “Whatever the reason they haven’t been able to create turnovers this year. That’s a big part of this defense and he’ll be the first to tell you.
“I’m at a loss. The ball is on the ground at times and for whatever the reason we don’t seem to come up with it. I know it’s not effort. I know we work at it. I’m out there at practice and see what we do. All the way through camp that’s all we do is work at getting the ball out.
“For whatever the reason we haven’t been able to create turnovers. Other than that everybody plays hard, everybody flies to the ball. Our defense has played well enough other than not creating turnovers to have a good football team.”