(The Sports Xchange) - The Carolina Panthers improved their perfect start to the season to 11-0 with a 33-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, who lost quarterback Tony Romo to another shoulder injury late in the third quarter on Thursday.
Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted two passes in the second quarter, part of a stifling effort by the Carolina defense at AT&T Stadium.
Dallas quarterback Romo completed 11 of 21 passes for 106 yards and three interceptions. And then, after Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis sacked him, Romo left the game favoring his left arm on the final play of the third.
Romo missed seven weeks with a broken clavicle earlier this season and the team reported he reinjured the left clavicle.
Dallas (3-8) were 0-7 with Romo out of the lineup.
However, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said initial X-rays were negative and Romo will be further evaluated on Friday.
Garrett said Romo will be back in the lineup if he can play.
“If Tony’s ready to play, he’s going to play,” Garrett said. “All hands on deck. Everybody who’s available is playing.”
Before Romo left, he helped tip the game in the Panthers’ favor as they returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
Carolina safety Kurt Coleman and Kuechly scored on pick-sixes in the first half to propel the Panthers to a 23-3 lead at halftime.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said it was no accident that his team scored on those plays.
“One of the things we do work on is, ‘Hey, we score with the ball,’” Rivera said. “We try to create that picket fence going down one side or the other.
“Kurt just made a great cutback and was able to put it in the end zone. Luke knew immediately where he was supposed to go and he picked up a row of blockers.”
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton turned in a stellar performance, connecting on 16 of 27 passes for 183 yards and rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Newton led the Panthers on a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to ice the game late in the third quarter.
He did a lot of handing off on the drive but converted a key third-and-17 with a 24-yard completion to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and a third-and-10 with an 11-yard connection with Cotchery.
Newton capped the drive with his four-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds left in the quarter, putting the Panthers ahead 30-6.
The Carolina defense set the tone and put the Panthers (11-0) in command by halftime.
Coleman intercepted Romo on the game’s third offensive play. Coleman eluded the Dallas offensive players in pursuit, crossing the field for a pick-six that gave Carolina a 7-0 lead with 14:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Neither offense punched through for a touchdown for the remainder of the first half, but Carolina did not need to in order to control the action.
Late in the second quarter, Kuechly stepped in front of a Romo pass and returned it 32 yards for a score.
Romo’s next throw did not go much better.
This time, Kuechly jumped to haul in a pass over the middle intended for tight end Jason Witten. Kuechly returned his second interception to the Dallas 29 with 2:19 left in the second quarter.
However, Newton and the Carolina offense could not cash in for a touchdown. Panthers kicker Graham Gano booted a 25-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to put Carolina ahead 23-3.
Although the offense was sputtering slightly in the first half, Rivera said he wasn’t going to take too many chances.
“I figured, ‘Why put (the defense) in a bad spot and I really do mean that,’” Rivera said. “A couple times, I did consider going for it, but again, with the way we’re playing on the defensive side, that over-weighed it.”
Now Carolina can enjoy their perch atop the NFC a little bit longer than usual. The Panthers will watch the rest of the weekend still knowing they are the only unbeaten team in the conference.
“It’s nice to be in our situation, it really is,” Rivera said. “But the truth of the matter is we’ve got to take it one at a time. The 24-hour rule is going to be extended to about 72 hours and we will take advantage of it.”
Romo struggled in his second game back from injury as he completed just eight of 17 passes for 82 yards and the three interceptions in the first half.
Garrett said the early stages of the game played to Carolina’s advantage.
“They’re a really good football team and the best thing they do is take the ball away,” Garrett said. “It’s a big part of the formula for winning that they have.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford