Five thoughts on Cowboys’ win over Panthers

The visiting Cowboys trailed at halftime on Sunday but outscored the Carolina Panthers 16-7 in the second half en route to a 19-14 victory.
Here are my five thoughts on the Cowboys’ third win in six games this season.
1.) If you were calling for a dominant win over one of the worst teams in the NFL then you were sadly mistaken. The Cowboys were down 7-3 at halftime and fought through the final minutes to defeat the one-win Panthers. No one should apologize for a victory but nothing about Sunday’s performance resembled a team that’s evolving into a title contender. With the Giants, Falcons and Eagles coming up the next three weeks, this was as close to a must-win game as you can have in Week 7. The Cowboys got it done, but they’ll have to be much improved to earn the same outcome against any of those next three.
2.) Before heading into the Cowboys’ locker room, Jerry Jones should search for the officiating crew and give each member a big hug. The refs missed a pass interference call on Morris Claiborne during a fourth-down play late in the final quarter. A few minutes later, the officials called Carolina linebacker James Anderson for a 15-yard horse-collar penalty on a tackle of Phillip Tanner. Anderson’s take-down looked violent but it was perfectly legal. His hand never went inside of Tanner’s shoulder pads. The play gave the Cowboys an automatic first down and put them well within range for Dan Bailey’s fourth field goal.
3.) Jason Garrett is about as conservative as they get when it comes to play-calling, and it showed again on Sunday. With 3:39 remaining and the Cowboys trailing by a point, 14-13, Garrett elected to run the ball on third-and-9 and settle for a 28-yard field goal. Yes, Bailey made the field goal, but it doesn’t show much trust in your passing game when you don’t even attempt a short throw in that situation. Again, it resulted in a victory so everyone’s elated, but there has to be more aggressiveness against the better teams that are coming up.
4.) For the majority of the afternoon, Rob Ryan’s defensive unit played well. Although they looked below average on a pair of touchdown drives, they held the Panthers to 2-for-10 on third downs and Claiborne finally recorded an interception, the first for any of the Cowboys corners this season. Anthony Spencer, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher created a lot of pressure and Dan Connor played well after Sean Lee departed with a foot injury. No one’s confusing this group with the 1985 Chicago Bears but holding an opponent to 14 points is a good day at the office by today’s NFL standards.
5.) A week after not showing a sense of urgency on the Cowboys’ final offensive play in Baltimore, Miles Austin set himself up for ridicule in Charlotte when he fumbled late in the second quarter. Austin was running down the middle of the field without the ball protected and it was easily swiped. It was an inexcusable mistake for a veteran that knows better. Carolina then drove for a touchdown a few minutes later. Austin made up for his error, though. Midway through the third quarter he caught back-to-back passes from Tony Romo with the second one going for a 26-yard touchdown. Austin finished with five receptions for a team-high 97 yards. More importantly, neither of his hamstrings looked like they were bothering him. He must stay healthy if the Cowboys have any shot at the postseason.
Follow Jon Machota on Twitter: @jonmachota