In the National Football League, it's almost always cataclysmic.
With just 16 opportunities to earn a playoff berth, the margin for error in professional football is exponentially smaller, and the pressure of each game is exponentially greater.
That's why the 1-4 Carolina Panthers, losers of three straight, are one defeat away from complete irrelevancy less than halfway through the season.
Will Carolina, with its back against the wall, triumph in the face of adversity, or sink into the depths of the NFL dungeon?
That question will be answered when the 2-4 Dallas Cowboys invade Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
The Cowboys, who are on a two-game slide of their own, enter this matchup coming off a heartbreaking 31-29 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last week.
Trailing 31-23 and with 32 seconds remaining in regulation, Tony Romo tossed a four-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant to bring Dallas within a two-point conversion of tying the game. But the attempt was unsuccessful when Romo's pass sailed right through Bryant's hands.
The Cowboys, after miraculously recovering an onside kick, would get one more shot – but to no avail. With six seconds left, Dan Bailey missed wide left on a 51-yard field goal that would have lifted the team to victory.
There is no doubt that the snakebitten Cowboys have this Sunday's matchup in Carolina circled on their calendars as a game they should (and have) to win.
Meanwhile, Ron Rivera's Panthers are coming off a much-needed bye week.
The injury bug, which decimated the team last season, has reared its ugly head again. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil was placed on the season-ending IR last week with a Lisfranc injury while defensive starters Chris Gamble (out) and Jon Beason (doubtful) are battling shoulder and knee injuries, respectively.
The week off has not only given the Panthers an extra week to rest and game plan, it's also given Geoff Hangartner, who is moving from right guard to center, and Garry Williams and Jeff Byers, who are competing for the empty guard position, time to get comfortable in new roles.
Regardless, the patchwork offensive line – and the rest of the team – have no time to rest on their laurels.
If the Panthers are truly ready to compete for a playoff spot – let alone a Super Bowl – the clock has hit all zeroes.
Step up or step aside.
Game Notes: The Cowboys have won eight straight regular-season games against the Panthers, and lead the all-time series 8-3.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained foot.
Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer is expected to play after missing nearly a month with a pectoral strain.
Dallas ranks second in the NFL in total defense, surrendering an average of just 285.2 yards per game to opponents this season.
Carolina ranks 23rd in total defense, conceding an average of 377 yards per game to its opponents.
Cam Newton has just four touchdown passes this season, tied with Ryan Tannehill for the fewest by a starting quarterback.
DeAngelo Williams, who has failed to eclipse six yards rushing in to two games this season, is averaging a career low 3.6 yards per carry.
Line: Cowboys by 2.5
Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.
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