Calmer Cowboys had time to reflect

IRVING -- Before Monday night's game, Dallas' problems were deemed bigger than the video board that sits 90 feet above the field at Cowboys Stadium.

Quarterback Tony Romo was coming off a three-interception debacle, and the Giants accused left tackle Flozell Adams of being a bush-league player for kicking defensive end Justin Tuck.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones didn't address the media after a 33-31 loss to the Giants in the first regular-season game at Cowboys Stadium.

It appeared the sky, or maybe the video board, was falling.

But the Cowboys bounced back Monday night in beating Carolina 21-7 to calm things down before Sunday's game at Denver.

"So much is made of it sometimes when you lose," tight end Jason Witten said. "The expectations here are really high and that's a good thing to have, but anytime it's that way, it puts your team in situations where you can't just question everything that's happening. Sometimes you get beat, and you have to learn from those mistakes and move on."

The Cowboys did move on, but dealt with some adversity in the process. Backup running back Felix Jones injured his left knee and won't play Sunday. The good news for Dallas is that Marion Barber is expected to return from a left thigh strain.

Monday's game saw Romo become a manager instead of a gunslinger, in earning a victory without throwing a touchdown or interception. It seemed to give the Cowboys hope that Romo is going to be fine.

The Cowboys' running game, the best in the league, rushed for more than 200 yards for the second consecutive week and is carrying the offense in the early stages of the season.

Yet a two-game road trip that starts against an undefeated Broncos team boasting the NFL's best defense won't be easy.

"I think I said it after the [Carolina] game; there's two things you get upset about each week," Romo said. "One thing is improvement. You do need to improve and continue to get better and strive for improvement as an individual and as a group and unit. The other is to win. Obviously your goal each week is to win, but right there with it is to continue to improve and get better."

The Cowboys didn't show a sense of urgency in the first half against Carolina. Dallas advanced to the Carolina 20 on its first drive, but Nick Folk missed a 40-yard field goal. The Cowboys punted on their next four possessions and finished the first half trailing 7-0.

Coach Wade Phillips noted how upset his team was at halftime. The Cowboys responded with a stronger second half, shutting out the Panthers' offense and causing two interceptions on the visitors' final two possessions to seal the game.

"Momentum, you want it every game," Phillips said. "I may have said mad and I think that's partly true, and it's just a sense of urgency that you're not ahead and it can happen, you can be behind in a ballgame, and you can be playing well and be behind, but you have to do something about it and you like to do it from the first play."

The Cowboys as an organization realize that they are judged mainly by their performances in December, when the failures of the product on the field are well-chronicled. But this Cowboys team acts as if winning a game isn't enough.

"We were good afterward but we were pissed off, even though we won," wide receiver Roy Williams said. "We were still mad because the offense could have played 100 times better. That to me is a sign of a championship team, when a team wins and they're still mad at the performance."

Calvin Watkins covers the Dallas Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.