The Panthers stayed undefeated, and made perhaps their most convincing case yet that their 11-0 record is not an accident.
And the Cowboys found out there was something worse than Tony Romo throwing three interceptions in the first half.
The Panthers rolled to a dominant 33-14 win over the Cowboys, whose nightmare season took another turn as Romo left late in the third quarter to get X-rays on his left clavicle.
While that dropped the Cowboys to 3-8, it also extinguished any hope they had of turning things around if Romo’s not going to be able to return. They had a bit of confidence when he came back last week and helped them snap a seven-game losing streak, which coincided with his absence from his first broken left clavicle.
But for the Panthers, it was a celebration long before Romo gave way to Matt Cassel.
They turned three Romo interceptions into 17 points in the first half and never looked back, sustaining drives in the second half with a powerful run game. They needed it, as the Cowboys played well enough defensively in the first half to keep it reasonably close.
But at this point, the Panthers’ formula is evident, as they won their 15th straight regular season game, dating back to last season. By the time they play their next game on Dec. 6, it will be 371 days since they last lost a regular season game (Nov. 30, 2014 at the Vikings).
They can run the ball, topping 100 yards as a team for the 22nd straight game.
They can pass-protect better than advertised, keeping a largely clean pocket for Cam Newton, and negating Greg Hardy’s effort at revenge. Newton was sacked just once, and Hardy made no impact on the game against his old team.
They can stop the run, limiting Dallas to 16 rushing yards in the first half and just 15 in the second.
And they can create takeaways, as they entered the week leading the league in turnovers created and points off turnovers. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had a pair of interceptions, returning one for a score (after safety Kurt Coleman had a pick-six of his own).
It’s a formula that could carry them to the Super Bowl, and give them a serious chance at a 16-0 season. Their remaining five games are at New Orleans, at home against the Falcons, followed by back-to-back road games against the Giants and Falcons and their home finale against the Buccaneers.
While they were a Vegas underdog to start this week, it’s hard to see that being the case again, unless the oddsmakers see the trip to New York as a potential slip.
But even if they do lose a game at some point, they showed a national audience Thursday that their success is legitimate, and that they’re one of the two most dangerous teams in the league.