Cowboys lose T.O., depend on ground game in win

The Cowboys' Terrell Owens pulls away from the Panthers' Richard Marshall as Owens runs for a touchdown after a catch during the first quarter in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday. <i>Associated Press</i>

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With Terrell Owens watching the second half from the locker room, the Dallas Cowboys had to depend on their running game and their defense to avoid a second straight upset loss.

Tony Romo threw for 257 yards and a touchdown and the Cowboys overcame the loss of Owens to a left ankle injury in a 20-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.

While Dallas (13-2) moved a step closer to clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Cowboys were dealing with another injury to a key offensive player.

Last week it was Romo, who bruised his right thumb and was ineffective in a loss to Philadelphia. Now it's Owens, who left in the second quarter after his left leg got caught underneath him after a catch.

The Cowboys made it 14-0 a play after Owens left, but failed to score another touchdown.

After the Panthers (6-9) cut it to 20-13 on John Kasay's 25-yard field goal with 3:01 left, the Cowboys put it away on Barber's 11-yard run with 1:45 left.

Barber rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries to help Dallas match the 1992 team for the most victories in franchise history.

But despite improving to 7-0 on the road, the Cowboys struggled to put away the Panthers, who started undrafted rookie Matt Moore for a second straight week.

Moore, who like Romo went undrafted and spent training camp with the Cowboys, threw for 182 yards. He threw his first NFL touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the second quarter, and connected with Smith on a 57-yard pass play that led to Kasay's final field goal.

But Moore was sacked five times, twice by DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys' defense was strong despite the absence of Roy Williams, who was serving a one-game suspension for an illegal "horse-collar" tackle.

Smith caught nine passes for 137 yards, but the Panthers managed only 67 yards rushing and were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

After the game, Carolina coach John Fox refused to address an NFL Network report that owner Jerry Richardson said Fox and general manager Marty Hurney would return next year despite their second straight non-winning season.

"I won't address that or any conversations until the season is over," Fox said.

While the Panthers season will end next week, the Cowboys will clinch home-field throughout the playoffs if Green Bay loses at Chicago on Sunday.

But there are concerns about when Owens will be able to play again.

Owens had his team-record 15th touchdown catch of the season in the first quarter. After grabbing a sideline hitch pass, Owens barreled over cornerback Richards Marshall for a 10-yard score and a 7-0 lead.

Owens' fifth catch midway through the second quarter was his last. After Romo's 4-yard pass near the goal line, Owens' left leg caught underneath him when he was brought down by Jon Beason.

Agitated, Owens limped to the sideline, then later walked to the locker room. He was seen later seen walking outside the locker room without his left shoe, and he remained in the locker room for the rest of the game.

Cowboys took a 14-0 lead the play after Owens went down on Marion Barber's 5-yard run, but struggled to score again despite a big possession advantage.

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