But however well the unit played, there were still, at times, glaring mistakes, especially in the first half that helped Panthers quarterback Cam Newton pile up the rushing yards and grab a 10-0 lead.
Too many bites on fakes, too many moments when a player was exploited for being out of position. And for Sean Lee, personally, too many missed tackles.
The Cowboys’ linebacker ripped himself after the game on Sunday for a bad performance. He’s undoubtedly played better games, but his was far from embarrassing. In fact, the defense as a whole held the Panthers to under 300 yards and gave the team a chance to win by holding Carolina to six second-half points. That, of course, wasn’t good enough for Lee or defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
“I think that is on me,” said Lee, who only made one solo tackle and assisted on three others. “I usually tackle well and I work on it every day in practice. I just did not get it done. I am going to have to get better this week. That is unacceptable tackling I did today.
“We need to create more turnovers and play cleaner. That starts with me. I had opportunities to make plays and I did not make them.”
The tackling improved in the second half and Dallas held Carolina to 84 total yards after the break. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett credited Newton’s size and running ability for some of those tackling problems.
“No. 1 is a hard guy to tackle. [Christian McCaffrey] is a hard guy to tackle. In some cases, guys were a tick out of control and then their runners used that to their advantage,” Garrett said. “I do think we pursued well so when we missed a tackle we had other guys around the ball. I thought that was a real positive thing. But there was some hidden yardage in the game that came from the missed tackles.”
Garrett said missed tackles came in all areas of the defenses, including missed sack opportunities, at the line of scrimmage and down the field. The loss overshadowed good days for safety Chidobe Awuzie and Lawrence, who said his sack and team-high six tackles mean nothing after a loss.
Against the New York Giants Sunday night at AT&T Stadium, Lee expects to be back to himself on the field.
“I just look at myself and the plays that I was in position to make and normally make but I did not make. No excuses for that,” Lee said. “Those are the plays that I have to make and a lot of times it will change the game if i make those. The image of who we want to be, how we tackle and how I tackle, I have to get better.”