CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With Terrell Owens watching the second half from the locker room, the Dallas Cowboys had to depend on their running game and their defense to avoid a second consecutive upset loss.

Tony Romo threw for 257 yards and a touchdown and the Cowboys overcame the loss of Owens to a left-ankle injury in a 20-13 win over the Carolina Panthers last night.

While Dallas (13-2) moved a step closer to clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Cowboys were dealing with another injury to a key offensive player.

Last week, it was Romo, who bruised his right thumb and was ineffective in a loss to the Eagles. This time, it's Owens, who left in the second quarter after his left leg got caught underneath him after a catch.

The Cowboys made it 14-0 a play after Owens left, but failed to score another touchdown.

After the Panthers (6-9) cut it to 20-13 on John Kasay's 25-yard field goal with 3 minutes, 1 second remaining, the Cowboys put it away on Marion Barber's 11-yard run with 1:45 left.

Barber rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries to help Dallas match the 1992 team for the most wins in franchise history.

But despite improving to 7-0 on the road, the Cowboys struggled to put away the Panthers, who started undrafted rookie Matt Moore for a second straight week.

Moore, who like Romo went undrafted and spent training camp with the Cowboys, threw for 182 yards. He threw his first NFL touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the second quarter.

After the game, Carolina coach John Fox refused to address an NFL Network report that owner Jerry Richardson said Fox and general manager Marty Hurney would return next year despite their second straight non-winning season.


. New York placed wide receiver Laveranues Coles on injured reserve because of an ankle injury that has bothered him for several weeks.

The Jets signed punter Jeremy Kapinos, a former Penn State star, from the practice squad to take Coles' spot on the active roster.


Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman and weakside linebacker Lance Briggs have been fined a total of $12,500 for what the league deemed illegal hits in the Bears' 20-13 loss to Minnesota on Monday night, reported.

Tillman is the latest player to be sanctioned in the NFL's crackdown on so-called "horse-collar" tackles. He was fined $7,500 for using the banned technique to drag down Vikings wide receiver Robert Ferguson.

Briggs was fined $5,000 for a second-quarter hit on Tarvaris Jackson in which he hit the quarterback in the head after a 19-yard completion.


Miami linebacker Channing Crowder will miss the rest of the season because of an injured right knee. His roster spot was filled by quarterback Casey Bramlet leading to today's game at undefeated New England.