CHARLOTTE, N.C. — About 90 minutes before the Dallas Cowboys were set to kick off against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was getting set for the customary game-day routine of meeting with the game officials.
That’s when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson showed up in his locker room for a surprise visit.
“I love doing everything in front of cameras the whole time,” McCarthy joked. “But it was just awesome seeing them two together.”
Jones and Johnson started to gain traction Sunday when they walked into the stadium together. Any time the two Hall of Famers are seen together, speculation usually follows. Much of that speculation — joking or serious — usually boils down to the one question: When will Jones do the inevitable and put Johnson, the leader of the Cowboys’ 90s dynasty, into the franchise’s Ring of Honor?
Jones finally provided an answer.
For a variety of reasons, few people knew of the timing of events until the plans were already in motion. Jones said a big reason for making the announcement Sunday was in coordination with the Fox NFL Sunday crew, of which Johnson has been a longtime member. Less than an hour before kickoff, the Cowboys announced that Jones and Johnson would be holding a joint news conference in the press room down in the basement of the stadium.
First, Jones and Johnson appeared together on the Fox broadcast 15 minutes before the game began to make the announcement. Then, with the Cowboys’ offense going three-and-out on its first possession on the TV in the press room, they shared stories about each other, ranging from when they were “young boys together” at Arkansas to “literally climb on a rocket” with their partnership launching a dynasty in Dallas.
Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson news conference going on as Cowboys vs. Panthers gets started pic.twitter.com/Oorj35cNvB
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 19, 2023
“People don’t realize the relationship,” Johnson said. “Back then, Jerry and I talked every day. Every single day, I would be in his office and we talked about it here recently, we never really had a disagreement, and that’s surprising to a lot of people, but we were always on the same page.
“Probably some of the tension happened there at the end of my career, as far as with the Cowboys, when we were so busy going different directions, we didn’t talk as much. But my feelings for Jerry never changed. This may be strange, but I love the guy. He is a big, big part — maybe the biggest part — of my entire career. I’m very appreciative of that.”
The Ring of Honor announcement upstaged the primary purpose of Jones and the Cowboys being in Charlotte, which was to win a football game. Given that one situation featured a heavily favored Dallas team going against a slumping, banged-up one-win team, while the other was a resolution to a decade-plus in-house drama, it’s understandable why the latter would steal the headlines.
However, it was less than two months ago that the heavily favored Cowboys lost to a subpar NFC opponent on the road against the Cardinals. That’s another reason Dallas opted to not give a heads up to the coaches and players. It wanted the football side of the operation focused on beating the Panthers.
Micah Parsons, DaRon Bland do their thing (again) as Cowboys take care of Panthers
The team held up its end of the bargain.
It was a relatively low-event game, with neither team really popping off for many big plays or providing game-changing moments through the first three quarters. It never felt like the Panthers had much chance of winning, but the Cowboys played with their food long enough to keep the appearance of a close game on the scoreboard.
Finally, on the third play of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys started breaking down the door.
Dak Prescott opened the final stanza with consecutive completions to CeeDee Lamb and then Tony Pollard took a handoff just outside the red zone. Pollard, who hadn’t scored a touchdown since the first week of the season, bulldozed his way 21 yards into the end zone to give the Cowboys a 24-10 lead.
“That juices you up right there,” Zack Martin said. “We got a run called, we got some double teams going with (Hunter) Luepke leading up in the hole. (Pollard) ran over about three of four guys to get in there so it was pretty cool to see.”
From there, the Cowboys simply tucked the Panthers into bed. On the next play, DaRon Bland returned his record-breaking fourth interception for a touchdown. The Cowboys recovered a Panthers fumble on the ensuing drive and added a field goal. By the time there were less than six minutes left in the game, Cooper Rush was at quarterback behind a fresh set of backup offensive linemen with Rico Dowdle running the ball.
“I feel like we came here and did what we needed to do,” McCarthy said. “It’s important to get the seventh win. We won by three scores. I was glad to get some (backup) guys some playing time in the fourth quarter. Overall, it was a healthy victory for us.”
The Cowboys face the challenge of a short week, playing on Thanksgiving, but their soft stretch continues as the Washington Commanders roll into town. At 4-7, the Commanders are slightly better in the standings than the Cowboys’ past two opponents. Washington lost 31-19 Sunday to the New York Giants — the same Giants the Cowboys beat 49-17 a week ago.
There isn’t much to learn about the Cowboys from the past two weeks, but credit to the players and coaches for handling their business on the field and stacking up valuable wins in the standings. They showed the ability to maintain focus, regardless of the level of competition and, on Sunday, regardless of the extracurriculars going on in the background.
“I didn’t know the (Ring of Honor) news until (after the game),” Prescott said. “I saw him in the locker room, and cameras. Just another day of being a Dallas Cowboy.”
(Photo of Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson: Eakin Howard / Getty Images)
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