Sunday Night Football: Dallas at Carolina

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Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells doesn't normally like to change quarterbacks in the middle of a season, but he's apparently seen enough of Drew Bledsoe.

Tony Romo will make his first career start at quarterback Sunday when the Cowboys visit the Carolina Panthers.

Romo started the second half of Monday night's 36-22 home loss to the New York Giants after Bledsoe threw an interception at the goal line just before halftime.

Two days later, Parcells announced that he would stick with Romo, a fourth-year pro who had never thrown a pass in a game until this season.

``Any time you do something like this, it's not without a lot of consideration,'' Parcells said. ``I've been thinking about it for some time. ... Hopefully, maybe as the team is comprised right now, he might be able to do a couple of things that assist us.''

Parcells rarely changes quarterbacks midseason, and two years ago stuck with 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde during a 6-10 campaign. But Bledsoe's lack of mobility behind a porous offensive line and his tendency to make costly mistakes apparently swayed the veteran coach, who picked Bledsoe No. 1 in the 1993 draft for the New England Patriots.

Romo will be the ninth different starting quarterback for the Cowboys (3-3) since Hall of Famer Troy Aikman retired after the 2001 season.

Bledsoe, who was sacked four times against the Giants, once for a safety, had six touchdown passes and one interception in Dallas' three victories - each of which came against teams with losing records - but just one TD and seven INTs in losses to Jacksonville, Philadelphia and the Giants.

Romo wasn't much better Monday, throwing three interceptions, one of which was returned 96 yards for a touchdown, and getting sacked twice. However, he did complete 14 of 25 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for a 2-point conversion.

``He's got to be more careful with the ball than he was the other night,'' Parcells said.

Romo will have a tough first test against the Panthers (4-3) and defensive end Julius Peppers, who leads the NFL with eight sacks this season. Carolina ranks fifth in the NFC with 206.6 passing yards allowed per game.

Panthers coach John Fox said his team has been preparing for both Dallas quarterbacks, and that he doesn't think the Cowboys are much different with either behind center.

``Not really. They run their offense. They don't vary it much,'' Fox said. ``There's always a little bit of variance, but nothing that's really major.''

The Panthers are coming off a 17-14 loss at Cincinnati, their first defeat with star receiver Steve Smith in the lineup. Smith, who caught eight passes for 126 yards against the Bengals, ranks third in the NFL with 576 receiving yards despite missing the first two games of the season - both Carolina losses.

In a 24-20 loss to the Cowboys last Dec. 24, Smith was held to 18 yards on one catch and was ejected in the third quarter for making contact with an official.

Three of Carolina's victories this season have come by three or fewer points, but the team wasn't able to pull out another close one against the Bengals. Quarterback Jake Delhomme drove the Panthers to the 10-yard line but was intercepted with 3:50 left in the game on a risky pass to Keyshawn Johnson in the end zone.

``You don't play well, you accept it like a man,'' said Delhomme, who is making his 62nd consecutive start. ``You look at the film, you learn from it, but you've got to let it go.''

Carolina continued to struggle on third down last week, going just 2-for-11, including 0-for-5 in the second half. The Panthers have converted just 23.5 percent of their third-down opportunities this season, ranking them last in the NFL.

Delhomme, who was fifth-worst in the NFL last season with 16 interceptions, has been picked off just four times this season while throwing eight touchdown passes. Delhomme was courted by Dallas before the 2003 season, but opted instead to sign with Carolina and led the Panthers to an NFC championship that season.

Johnson, who has 36 catches for 460 yards and two touchdowns this season, caught 141 passes for 1,820 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004 and 2005 for the Cowboys.

Rookie DeAngelo Williams, Carolina's No. 2 running back who hadn't played or practiced since spraining his right ankle against Cleveland on Oct. 8, took the field Wednesday and is listed as questionable. His return could help boost a running game that ranks 25th in the NFL with 96.7 yards per game.

Dallas has taken five of six regular-season meetings with Carolina, but has lost both of its playoff games against the Panthers.

By: David Michaels - - Email Us

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