ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Terence Newman dived into the end zone, threw the ball into the air and exhaled. The Dallas Cowboys were headed to victory and their maligned defense was the main reason for it.
Newman returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown with 5:07 left, cracking open a tight game and sending the Cowboys to a 21-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.
Dallas (2-1) came into this game without a takeaway or a sack, the latter number an especially sorry stat for last year's NFL leaders. But the Cowboys harassed Jake Delhomme into three sacks, two interceptions and a fumble - and, most importantly, forced him and the Panthers (0-3) into four straight three-and-outs to start the second half. Two sacks and the fumble came on Carolina's final drive.
Tony Romo moved the ball well all night, but struggled to turn deep drives into points.
Dallas was leading only 13-7 when Newman picked off a ball intended for Steve Smith and zipped toward the right corner of the end zone, hurtling in as he was caught from behind.
Teammates mobbed him in celebration while a loud crowd of 90,588 savored the likelihood of the Cowboys' first victory in their new $1.15 billion home, a week after a last-second loss to the New York Giants.
Romo bounced back from an ugly three-interception outing by playing very carefully. He was 22 of 33 for 255 yards with no touchdowns - but also no turnovers. He didn't throw deep too often and rarely into traffic. He had a chance to give Dallas a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, but missed on short lobs into the end zone to Roy Williams and Martellus Bennett, which gave Carolina hope.
''You're always frustrated and disappointed when you don't play to what you feel like you're capable of. That was me last week,'' Romo said. ''There's a lot of adversity you have to go through at different times, and if you keep plugging away, playing hard and just trying to get better, it'll come out the right way. ... This week was all about trying to execute better so we could come out and get a win.''
Delhomme blew it with the interception to Newman on the ensuing possession, and now his season and Carolina's are going to face some heavy scrutiny.
The Panthers have gone from 12-4 division champs to their worst start since 1998, when they started 0-7. Delhomme has 15 turnovers in his past 16 quarters, and Carolina is going into a bye week, meaning more time to stew over it all.
Delhomme's numbers weren't terrible: 22 of 33 for 220 yards. But his six second-half drives ended with four punts, an interception and a fumble.
Jay Ratliff had Dallas' first sack and Mike Jenkins had the first pickoff. Rookie Victor Butler had the last two sacks, both on Carolina's final drive, and he forced the fumble on the final one.
Cowboys running back Marion Barber sat out with a thigh problem, and second-year backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice picked up the slack.
Jones had plays of 16, 18 and 20 yards on the first two drives, but Dallas didn't have any points to show for it. He finished with 94 yards on only eight carries, and another 20 yards on a pass. He left with a knee injury in the third quarter, leaving Choice to handle the load. He finished with 82 yards on 18 carries, including a touchdown.
Carolina went ahead 7-0 with a 90-yard drive just before halftime. Delhomme completed three passes for 58 yards to Dante Rosario, who caught three passes for 31 yards in the first two games. Rosario scored on a 25-yard reception.
Dallas' Nick Folk ended a streak of 16 straight field goals by missing a 40-yarder on the opening drive. He made a 24-yarder at the start of the second half, then Choice scored on a 5-yard run to put the Cowboys up 10-7 on their next drive. Folk made a 19-yarder to nudge the lead to 13-7 after the incompletions to Williams and Bennett.
Jason Witten caught nine passes for 77 yards, and Roy Williams caught four for 75.