CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Romo found a way to win a close game, something Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are still trying to learn.
Romo led the Cowboys into field-goal range and Dan Bailey converted a 28-yarder with 3:25 remaining to lift the Dallas Cowboys to a 19-14 win on Sunday.
Bailey had four field goals and Romo threw for 227 yards and a touchdown as the Cowboys defeated the Panthers for the ninth straight time in the regular season. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Cowboys (3-3) and helped ease some pressure from their highly criticized 31-29 loss to Baltimore last week in a game marred by poor clock management.
"When you think about some of the adversity we've encountered this season, our focus remains on just getting better," said Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware. "We have been doing that, and this week being able to go out and close a game let us know that hey, we can do it."
Romo said the Cowboys never bought into the idea that the sky was falling after last week's loss.
"You know that every week you're either great or terrible — or at least semi-terrible or semi-great," Romo said. "What you find in this league is all you need to do is figure out how to get better and play your best football when it counts."
Just in case everyone wasn't buying in, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett invited former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs — yes, their old rival — to speak to players at the team's chapel service Saturday night.
Gibbs' message was that everyone makes mistakes, but what's important is how you handle adversity.
The Cowboys seemed to listen.
"We did a good job of bouncing back and finding a way to win a game today," Garrett said.
For the Panthers (1-5) it was a case of another game in which they were close enough to win in the fourth quarter but couldn't finish. Carolina had similar chances in their two previous games against Atlanta and Seattle.
Newton, who finished 21 of 37 for 233 yards with one touchdown and an early interception in the red zone, said he doesn't know why the Panthers can't win close games.
"Whether it's me, I don't know. Whether it's the coordinator, I don't know. Whether it's the players overall, I don't know," Newton said. "(But) we got to change that man."
The Panthers finished fifth in points last season, averaging 25.3 points per game, but have scored more than 14 points in only two of their six games this year.
"Instead of keeping the game close, I'm looking forward to a game where I ... we put up 35 points. Everybody does," Newton said.
This game had its share of drama — and controversy.
On a fourth-and-1 at their 39 with 2:11 remaining and trailing by one, the Panthers caught Dallas' defense trying to change personnel, and Newton rushed to the line. He quickly took the snap and completed a pass to Greg Olsen for an apparent first down, but officials ruled the Cowboys called timeout before the snap.
On the next play, cornerback Morris Claiborne collided with Panthers receiver Louis Murphy before the ball arrived, but no flag was thrown and the Cowboys took over on downs.
"I felt like I got pushed early," Murphy said. "He kind of hooked me and pushed me in the back before the ball got there."
Claiborne saw it differently.
"I felt I had good coverage," he said.
The Cowboys took over and ran more time off the clock, but on third-and-4 at the Carolina 18, running back Phillip Tanner lost 2 yards. Bailey added his fourth field goal — a 38-yarder — with 53 seconds left.
Garrett said he made the decision to run the ball because he was confident his defense, ranked second in the league, could hold the Panthers.
"We trust our defense immensely," Garrett said. "Our defense is outstanding and they've played great all year long."
Romo didn't disagree with the call.
"You weigh what coverages they've been playing throughout the day," Romo said. "You also look at how well your defense has played throughout the day. ... It's very hard to be in their position, 53 seconds left, and you need a touchdown."
With no timeouts left, the Panthers weren't able to get past midfield on their final possession.
"We missed an opportunity," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "It kind of epitomizes what has happened" this season.
The Panthers came in looking to establish their running game and started Jonathan Stewart at running back instead of DeAngelo Williams. Stewart was limited to 35 yards on 10 carries and Williams only carried twice for 4 yards.
Newton was the team's leading rusher with 64 yards on six carries, most of those coming off scrambles rather than designed runs.
NOTES: Cowboys WR Dez Bryant started despite a groin injury. On Bryant's first play he was penalized for unnecessary roughness after shoving Panthers players following a punt return. ... Cowboys C Phil Costa was carted off the field in the second quarter with his right leg in an air cast. ... The Panthers were without LB Jon Beason and CB Chris Gamble, while the Cowboys played without RB DeMarco Murray.