But their games wouldn't be as interesting.
Carter led Dallas to a dramatic victory for the second time in three weeks, turning a 13-0 deficit to the Carolina Panthers into a 14-13 victory by throwing an 80-yard touchdown pass to Joey Galloway with 3:55 left, then a 24-yarder to rookie Antonio Bryant with 56 seconds to go.
|Antonio Bryant celebrates his late game-winning TD reception.(AP)|
Carter started showing his comeback skills two games ago, when he overshadowed a mostly poor performance by directing a last-minute drive that led to the game-winning field goal against St. Louis. He almost did it again last week against the New York Giants, but he overthrew Bryant on a deep ball.
This time, on his 25th birthday, Carter got the Cowboys (3-3) in a hole by committing two turnovers and making few good throws. Fans were booing, and nearly half of Texas Stadium emptied as Dallas appeared headed to their first home shutout in 11 years.
Then Carter started clicking.
After going 9-of-22 for 77 yards over the first 55 minutes, he was 6-of-10 for 148 yards on the final two drives. The Galloway TD was the longest pass of Carter's career, and it stretched his streak of consecutive 200-yard passing games to five straight.
To pull it out, he had to be as lucky as he was good.
On Galloway's touchdown, Carter scrambled out of a sack and steadied himself with his free hand. The pass was nearly intercepted by Deon Grant, but instead he deflected it -- straight to Galloway.
"The ball just elevated more than I thought," Grant said. "I didn't jump high enough."
On the game-winning drive, Carolina (3-3) thought it had recovered a Carter fumble, but replay officials called it an incompletion, citing the same "tuck rule" that saved Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the playoffs.
Given new life, Dallas improvised. A 10-yard completion to Darnay Scott on fourth-and-6 came on a play that wasn't in the game plan, as was the TD pass to Bryant, which also was on fourth down.
"Sometimes all the things you planned didn't work, so then you have to go into your back of tricks and pull out some more," Carter said.
On the game-winning catch, Bryant juggled it, then rolled over, causing a few seconds of hesitation. Once it was clear he still had it, fans screamed and players piled on top of each other.
It still had to withstand a replay, but Bryant wasn't concerned.
"I thought they just liked the catch and wanted to see it again," he said.
Carolina almost answered as Chris Weinke -- who played the second half after Rodney Peete sustained a concussion -- completed passes of 24 and 22 yards to reach the Dallas 41 with 11 seconds left and no timeouts.
The Panthers still weren't in kicker Shayne Graham's range, so Weinke hit Muhsin Muhammad for 9 yards. He was tackled in bounds and time expired before the Panthers could spike the ball.
"It's a shame that we played so hard and so well, only to come up short in the end," said Carolina coach John Fox, whose team won its first three but has lost three straight by a combined seven points, all in the closing minutes. "To be in such control of the game and have a couple of fluke plays happen is a shame."
The win continued Dallas' lose-win, lose-win cycle and again keeps Carter's critics at bay for a week. It also was a nice birthday present for the boss, Jerry Jones, who turned 60.
"What a lift!" said Jones, who skipped his usual second-half stroll on the sidelines.
The Panthers built their lead on a 25-yard TD pass from Peete to Brad Hoover after Carter practically handed an interception to Julius Peppers. Graham kicked field goals of 50 and 44 yards. He also missed a 44-yarder.
Weinke, who had thrown only one pass all season, went 7-of-12 for 114 yards. Peete was 9-of-15 for 84.
Smith had 59 yards, leaving him 175 yards from passing Walter Payton to become the NFL's career rushing leader.
- Carolina was seeking its first shutout in 81 games and the third in franchise history.
- Smith tied Tony Hill for third on Dallas' career receptions list. He's 10 behind Drew Pearson for second.
- Bryant was benched for the game's first play for arriving late.
- Injuries: Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan (strained groin), safety Jarrod Cooper (sprained knee) and Peete. For Dallas, safety Roy Williams bruised his left heel.
The Associated Press News Service
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