CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Dallas Cowboys spent the offseason discussing the merits of a committee approach at wide receiver after they cut Dez Bryant. They talked about using multiple tight ends for the first time, with Jason Witten retiring after a 15-year career.
The whole idea was to be "Dak friendly."
The Cowboys avoided their first shutout since Nov. 16, 2003, at New England -- a 12-0 affair in Bill Parcells' return to Foxborough -- but they hardly answered enough questions to make folks a little less queasy about life without Bryant and Witten.
Dak Prescott completed 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards. He wasn't intercepted, but he did not throw a touchdown pass, either. Dating back to last season, Prescott has not thrown for 200 yards in seven of his past nine starts. That's 200 yards, not 300.
And to keep with the dating-back-to-last-season theme, the Cowboys have not scored a first-half touchdown since Week 15 at Oakland, when Rod Smith burrowed his way into the end zone with 14:04 left in the second quarter. They had three Dan Bailey field goals in Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks and were pointless in the season finale against Philadelphia Eagles.
On Sunday, the Cowboys had six first-half possessions and never got past their 45-yard line.
At least they got into Panthers territory on the first possession of the second half. They finally found the end zone with 8:52 left when Ezekiel Elliott took an option pitch from Prescott for a 4-yard touchdown.
But every yard was a fight.
If the Cowboys can't make plays in the passing game, then life for Elliott will be extremely difficult. In his first two seasons, they have been able to run him effectively, but that wasn’t the case Sunday.
Elliott finished with 69 yards on 15 carries, with 33 of those yards coming on two runs in the second half.
Of Prescott’s six completions in the first half, none were deeper than 9 yards, and three were completed behind the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats and Information data. With a chance to hit wide-open tight end Blake Jarwin on third-and-7 in the second quarter, Prescott was woefully short on his throw, caught between whether he should run for a first down or hit Jarwin.
Prescott's first completion of the second half went 20 yards to Allen Hurns, viewed as Bryant's top replacement. He completed at least one pass to seven different pass catchers, but the varied attack did not make for an efficient one.
Prescott struggled to find any rhythm until the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys' chances of pulling out an improbable win ended with 1:18 to play. Prescott was sacked for the sixth time in the game, and Captain Munnerlyn recovered the fumble forced by Mario Addison.
There were no answers. Just more questions.