Terence Newman dived into the end zone, threw the ball into the air and exhaled. The Dallas Cowboys were headed to victory and their maligned defense was the main reason for it.
Newman returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown with 5:07 left, cracking open a tight game and sending the Cowboys to a 21-7 victory against the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.
Dallas (2-1) came into the game without a takeaway or a sack, the latter number an especially sorry stat for last year’s NFL leaders. But the Cowboys harassed Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme into three sacks, two interceptions and a fumble -- and, most important, forced him and the Panthers (0-3) into four straight three-and-outs to start the second half. Two sacks and the fumble came on Carolina’s final drive.
Tony Romo moved the ball well all night, but struggled to turn deep drives into points.
Dallas was leading 13-7 when Newman picked off a ball intended for Steve Smith and ran toward the right corner of the end zone, hurtling in as he was caught from behind.
Teammates mobbed him in celebration while a loud crowd of 90,588 savored the likelihood of the Cowboys’ first victory in their new $1.15-billion home, a week after a last-second loss to the New York Giants.
Romo bounced back from a three-interception outing by playing carefully. He was 22 for 33 for 255 yards and no touchdowns -- but also no turnovers. He didn’t throw deep too often and rarely into traffic.