The Dallas Cowboys’ offense scuffled its way through the first half, including a nearly invisible presence of running back Ezekiel Elliott.
It put Dallas’ offense on the defensive and the Carolina Panthers held on for a 16-8 win Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers’ 10-point lead to start the third quarter put the Cowboys in pass mode, which limited Elliott’s carries to 15 for 69 yards. The 15 carries are tied for the third-fewest in his career. He’s rushed fewer than 20 times in a game only five times, three of which came in Elliott’s 2016 rookie season.
“It was definitely tough. We jut didn’t go out there and execute,” said Elliott, who only had 18 yards on seven carries in the first half. “Our offense put our defense in a bad situation. We kept them on the field too long. We couldn’t get first downs, keep our drives going.”
The offense came alive in the second half, but it was too little, too late. Elliott rushed eight times for 51 yards, including a four-yard touchdown that set helped cut the deficit to 16-8 with 8:51 remaining in the game. Dak Prescott’s two-point conversation capped the 75-yard, 10-play drive. Elliott had a 17-yard run on the Cowboys’ first possession of the second half but that drive stalled out and ended in one of six Chris Jones’ punts.
“We really didn’t change our gameplan going into the second half,” Elliott said. “We came out in the second half and we got the ball rolling. But it just wasn’t enough. It was too late. We have to do that from the beginning.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the Panthers’ front seven were outstanding. And four penalties in the first half didn’t do the offense any favors. The Cowboys had five penalties overall in the first half and finished with 10 for 85 yards.
“We knew it was going to be a struggle early to try to establish the line of scrimmage,” Garrett said. “It’s hard to establish the run when you’re digging out of these drives a little bit.”
Elliott dismissed the notion that starting players were too rusty after not playing as much (or at all, in Elliott’s case) in the preseason.
“I don’t think so. We get paid every week to come out here and win football games,” he said. “To produce and execute our plays at a high level. That’s what’s expected of us and we have to do that.”
Elliott said falling behind 10-0 and then 16-0 early in the fourth quarter limited his touches. The Cowboys only ran 22 plays in the first half and finished with 57 compated to the Panthes’ 61.
“We didn’t have a lot of plays so we couldn’t run the ball a lot,” Elliott said. “We got behind. We’ve got to start better, we got to start faster. That’s not Dallas Cowboys football. That’s not how we’ve ever played. If we want to succeed and go out there and win ballgames we can’t go out there and lay an egg in the first half.”