Dallas cruises to victory as Bland matches NFL record for most pick-sixes in a season

Cowboys vs. Panthers
Getty Images Cowboys vs. Panthers

Bland and Parsons lead dominant Cowboys defense in rout of Panthers

The Dallas Cowboys faced the Carolina Panthers, a team with the worst record in the NFL at 1-8, in a Week 11 matchup that lacked much intrigue. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones seemed to acknowledge that when he held a surprise press conference before the game to announce that former coach and Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson would join the team’s Ring of Honor in Week 17. The Cowboys could have been complacent, but they were not: they cruised to a 33-10 win, improving their record to 7-3.

The Cowboys built a 17-3 lead by halftime, despite a shaky first half from quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw touchdown passes to rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker (18 yards) and star wide receiver Cee Dee Lamb (5 yards). Lamb finished with 38 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches, becoming the first player in Cowboys history to record three 1,000-yard seasons in his first four years. Prescott completed 25 of 39 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cowboys defense, however, was the main reason for their dominance. Cornerback DaRon Bland, a second-year, fifth-round pick, returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown, his ninth of the season, tying the NFL record for the most in a single season. The pick-six gave the Cowboys a 30-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

“I told my teammates I was going to go get one today,” Bland told Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews after the game. “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.”

Bland, 24, attributed his knack for interceptions and touchdowns to his experience as a wide receiver in high school.

“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.”

Linebacker Micah Parsons, one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL with 53 quarterback pressures entering Week 11, bounced back from a quiet performance in Week 10, when he had no sacks or tackles for the first time in 2023. Parsons sacked Panthers quarterback Bryce Young, the 2023 first overall pick, three times, giving him 10.5 sacks for the season. Parsons became the first player in Cowboys history to have double-digit sacks in each of his first three seasons. Parsons ended the Panthers’ first two drives with third-down sacks, and his half-sack in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys leading 30-10 sealed his place in the record books.

The Cowboys outgained the Panthers, 311-187, and won the turnover battle, 2-0. The Cowboys’ 33-10 victory was their sixth win of 2023 by 20 or more points, the most in the NFL. No other team had more than three such wins entering Week 11.

How the Cowboys dominated The Cowboys’ defense, led by Bland and Parsons, was the star of the show in their Week 11 rout of the Panthers. Bland and Parsons both chased history as they recorded multiple sacks and interceptions. Prescott rested for the final five minutes of the game, as the Cowboys had already secured a comfortable win. Dallas sacked Young seven times, matching the sixth-highest total in the NFL this season. The Cowboys pressured the rookie quarterback throughout the game, preventing him from finding his rhythm.

Where the Panthers fell short The Panthers’ offense was ineffective and inefficient, as they failed to sustain drives or score points. Seven of their 10 possessions resulted in either a punt or a turnover. They gave up a pick-six and a fumble that led to Cowboys’ touchdowns. Such a dismal performance would not cut it in the NFL.

The game-changer The game was still within reach for the Panthers at the start of the fourth quarter, as they trailed by only seven points. However, that changed when Pollard broke free for a 21-yard touchdown run that extended the Cowboys’ lead to 24-10. Pollard showed his strength and determination as he carried several defenders into the end zone. It was his first touchdown since Week 1, when he scored twice in the Cowboys’ 40-0 demolition of the Giants on “Sunday Night Football.” The Panthers’ offense could not respond, as they were shut out in the final quarter.

The highlight The most memorable play of the game was Bland’s spectacular interception that he returned for a 30-yard touchdown. Bland tied the NFL’s single-season record with his sixth pick-six of the year. He displayed his athleticism and awareness as he dove for the ball, flipped over, and sprinted to the end zone. He read Young’s eyes and anticipated his throw, making a decisive move to snatch the ball.

What’s next The Cowboys, who improved to 7-3, will host the 4-7 Washington Commanders at AT&T Stadium in Week 12 on Thanksgiving. The Panthers, who fell to 1-9, will travel to Nashville to face the 3-7 Tennessee Titans in Week 12.