Jason Garrett won the Battle of the Backups.
Garrett, subbing for the injured Troy Aikman, threw two scoring passes of his own, giving the Cowboys a 13-point cushion that enabled them to survive his fumble that gave the Panthers a chance. The game wasn't secured until Beuerlein threw a deep pass out of the end zone as time expired.
Beuerlein, a former Cowboy making his first appearance of the season because Kerry Collins decided he didn't want to play, completed 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards against the dazzled Dallas defense. He completed his first 12 attempts.
"Gee whiz, he was hotter than a firecracker," Dallas coach Chan Gailey said of Beuerlein. "It looked like he couldn't miss. You had a feeling they would rally around Steve and play well."
Collins didn't make the trip to Dallas with the team.
Sanders intercepted Beuerlein's pass with 1:55 to play, but Carolina got the ball back with 51 seconds left for a last-ditch drive to the Dallas 37, where Beuerlein let fly on a desperate eave that overshot his three receivers with the clock showing 0:00.
Garrett said he couldn't watch.
"I was just shaking my head," Garrett said. "I have immense respect and admiration for him. He's a true competitor."
Beuerlein said he thought Carolina could pull off the upset.
"We showed a lot of heart, never quit, and were in it to the end," Beuerlein said.
The Cowboys (4-2) had never beaten the Panthers, whose winless streak this season stands at five.
Aikman, who will be out until early November with a broken collarbone, lost to the Panthers 23-13 last year and 26-17 in the NFC divisional playoffs two years ago in the only meetings between the teams.
Garrett, 5-1 as a starter for his career and 3-1 this year, rallied Dallas from a 14-3 hole after Beuerlein threw two first-half touchdown passes.
Emmitt Smith rushed 21 times for 112 yards and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 27-14.
But Beuerlein hit William Floyd with a 3-yard scoring pass after Rod Smith ran 35 yards after picking up Garrett's fumble on a quarterback sneak, and Darren Woodson was called for pass interference.
"I've never fumbled a quarterback sneak before," Garrett said. "The ball just hopped out of there while we were trying to bleed the clock."
Sanders made his interception to thwart a Carolina drive, and he returned it 18 yards to the 50. Dallas couldn't move but used up Carolina's timeouts before punting to set up the Panthers' final failed drive.
| Carolina's Doug Evans arrives too late to prevent this touchdown catch by the Cowboys' Ernie Mills. (AP) |
"I was just cheating inside and Steve threw the ball right to me," Sanders said.
The Cowboys created a turnover and went ahead 17-14 early in the third period on a 6-yard shovel pass from Garrett to Chris Warren as Gailey dug deep into his trick bag.
Sanders went into motion behind Garrett, who took a direct snap out of the shotgun. The Panthers went in Sanders' direction, and Garrett pitched the ball to Warren, who scored up the middle standing up.
The touchdown was set up when Anthony Johnson fumbled and Kevin Mathis recovered at the 2. Johnson was in the lineup because starter Fred Lane missed the team plane on the flight to Dallas.
"We have rules and they haven't changed since Day 1, and those rules apply to all players no matter who it is," Carolina coach Dom Capers said.
Beuerlein hit 12 consecutive passes in the first half before he threw an incompletion as the Panthers charged to a 4-3 lead. He was 12-of-13 for 160 yards in the first half.
Beuerlein, who twice lost to his former team as a starter for Arizona, found Raghib Ismail for touchdown passes of 35 and 16 yards. Ismail beat Woodson on the first touchdown pass, and cornerback Kevin Smith was the victim on the second one.
"Steve played good," Capers said. "We made too many critical mistakes to start the second half."
As boos rained down from the impatient Texas stadium crowd, Garrett finally got the Dallas offense going on a 93-yard drive late in the first half to cut the deficit to 14-10. The payoff came on an 18-yard pass to former Panthers receiver Ernie Mills, who made a diving over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone.
Garrett finished 14-of-22 for 287 yards.
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