Cowboys vs. Panthers score, takeaways: DaRon Bland ties NFL single-season pick-six record as Dallas rolls

Playing the Carolina Panthers, a team that entered Week 11 with a 1-8 record (the worst in the NFL), isn’t a scintillating, headline-grabbing matchup for the Dallas Cowboys. Team owner and general manager Jerry Jones indirectly said as much when he held an impromptu press conference that bled into the 1 p.m. ET start of the contest on Sunday to announce Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson would be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at the Cowboys regular-season home finale against the Detroit Lions in Week 17. It would have been an easy game for the Cowboys to enter with a lack of focus, but that wasn’t the case: Dallas earned a wire-to-wire 33-10 victory, running its record to 7-3.

The Cowboys took a 17-3 lead into halftime after an uneven first half in which quarterback Dak Prescott threw touchdown passes to second-round rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker (18 yards) and Pro Bowl wide receiver Cee Dee Lamb (5 yards). Lamb ended up with 38 receiving yards and a score on six catches, which allowed him to become the first player in Cowboys history to have three seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards in their first four years. Prescott finished with 189 passing yards and two scoring strikes on 25 of 39 passing in the contest. 

However, the defense ended up being the real driving force in the Dallas domination. Second-year, fifth-round pick cornerback DaRon Bland’s 30-yard interception return touchdown of 2023 first overall pick Bryce Young’s pass that was intended for Jonathan Mingo was historic, tying him for the most in a single season in NFL history. It also ran the score up to 30-10. 

“I told my teammates I was going to go get one today,” Bland said to Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews postgame on Sunday. “Actually ending up in the end zone, I didn’t know what to do. I had no celebration at that point. It was good. I felt all my teammates bum rush me.”

The 24-year-old credited his high school background playing wide receiver for his ability to continue to pile up interceptions as well as turn them into touchdowns.

“I have to go back to my high school days playing wide receiver and just having that mindset to go get the ball,” Bland said. “Seeing the ball once a receiver hits his break, and I see the ball in the air, I just go get it.”  

Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL who entered Week 11 with 53 quarterback pressures — the second-most in the NFL — had an unfamiliar performance in the Cowboys’ 49-17 domination of the New York Giants in Week 10: he failed to register a sack or a tackle in a game for the first time in 2023. Parsons also did something new on Sunday: his three sacks gave him 10.5 in 2023, making him the first player in team history with double-digit sacks in each of his first three seasons. Parsons ended Carolina’s first two drives with third-down sacks, and his half-sack with 12:52 remaining in the fourth quarter with Dallas on top 30-10 in 33-10 Week 11 road win put him in the history books.   

The Cowboys outgained the Panthers, 311-187, and won the turnover battle two to zero. Dallas’s 33-10 victory also marks their NFL-best sixth win of 2023 by 20 or more points. Entering Week 11, no other team had more than three. 

Why the Cowboys won

Dallas’s defensive players, Bland and Parsons, had more suspense in their quest to set records than there was for which team was going to leave Sunday’s game victorious. Prescott was able to check out of the game with around five minutes left in the contest, a true indictment of how much of a blowout the Cowboys’ Week 11 victory was. Dallas recorded seven sacks of Young, tied for the sixth-most in a game in the entire NFL this season. The Cowboys didn’t allow the rookie to have enough time to go through his progressions on a regular basis, the deciding factor on Sunday. 

Why the Panthers lost 

Seven of their 10 offensive possessions ended in a punt (five times)  or a turnover (one pick-six and one lost fumble). Offensive futility of that degree will never be enough to come out victorious in the NFL. 

Turning point 

Pro Bowl running back Tony Pollard’s 21-yard rushing touchdown that ran the game’s score to 24-10 with 13:58 left in the game. The Panthers actually entered the fourth quarter trailing 17-10, but Pollard’s Marshawn Lynch-like scoring run in which he dragged the pile the final 7 or 8 yards for the score. Getting ahead of the Panthers’ anemic offense by two touchdown in the fourth quarter felt like a dagger to Carolina’s heart, and it was since they ended up not scoring in the game’s final 15 minutes. The touchdown was also his first since Week 1 when Pollard had two in the Cowboys’ 40-0 beatdown of the New York Giants in the NFL’s first broadcast of “Sunday Night Football.”

Play of the game 

There was only one option for the play of this game: Bland’s diving interception in which he somersaulted and bounced back to his feet to complete a 30-yard pick-six to tie the NFL’s single-season record. He was lurking like Jaws circling his prey and when Young took the chance, he zoomed forward to snatch the football. 

What’s next

The Cowboys, who improved to 7-3, return home to AT&T Stadium in Week 12 to host the 4-7 Washington Commanders on Thanksgiving. The Panthers, who fell to 1-9, hit the road and head to Nashville to face the 3-7 Tennessee Titans in Week 12.

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