CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was curtains for the Dallas Cowboys.
And a curtain call for the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers hooted and hollered their way up the locker-room tunnel Saturday after beating the Cowboys, 29-10, then rumbled back down the tunnel moments later to run a victory lap for the fans.
Leading the charge was guard Kevin Donnalley, who captured the moment with a tiny video camera in his gigantic hand.
"I want to remember this," he said as he made his way around the lower rim of Ericsson Stadium, slapping palms with hundreds of fans along the way.
It was a magical moment for a franchise making its first postseason appearance since 1996. What better way to scratch that seven-year itch than to eliminate the Cowboys, who beat Carolina in Dallas five weeks earlier?
"This is just one, and this team understands that," said Panther safety Mike Minter, whose team advanced to a conference semifinal Saturday at St. Louis. "It's one, two, three -- and then we're in the Super Bowl. That's all we're thinking about."
The game marked the end of the season for the Cowboys and Coach Bill Parcells, who turned around a franchise that had strung together three consecutive 5-11 seasons before he arrived last spring.
Although he has won 11 postseason games, more than any active coach, Parcells is 2-5 in road playoff games. The top-ranked Cowboy defense looked nothing like the unit that limited opponents to an average of 253.5 yards a game during the regular season. The Panthers had gained 267 yards by halftime and finished with 380.
"We jumped on them early," Minter said. "Our offense made some big plays early on in the game. They were stunned and never really got their feet under them."
Most surprising was the way the Panthers victimized left cornerback Terence Newman, the fifth pick in the draft last spring and runner-up to Baltimore's Terrell Suggs for defensive rookie of the year. Newman was either caught out of position or beaten several times, especially when he tried to blanket receiver Steve Smith, who had five catches for 135 yards and a touchdown.
"Our corners didn't play well tonight," Parcells said. "And if we don't play too well outside, well.... It wasn't just our corners, but we can do better than that."
Afterward, Newman was pointing fingers -- directly at himself.
"I can't pinpoint anything that I did right today," he said. "If you ask me, I'm the one who was responsible for all those points they scored. I put it on my shoulders. My teammates played their butts off, and I was the weak link tonight."
Smith was so deliriously happy after the game that he hopped into the arms of fans behind the end zone, then -- taking a Lambeau Leap to the extreme -- let them pull him over the railing and swallow him in a sea of hugs. He briefly disappeared in the mass of bodies, prompting a team official to come fish him out of the crowd.
Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme, who played poorly in a 24-20 loss at Dallas in November, compiled a rating of 104.5 by completing 18 of 29 for 273 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
"It was by far the biggest game of my life and my career," he said. "We needed to come out and prove it tonight, and I think we did."
When Delhomme wasn't picking apart the Cowboy secondary, Stephen Davis was controlling the clock with his running. He gained 104 yards in 26 carries, one of which was a 23-yard touchdown around the left side.
"We didn't have the ball very much," Parcells said. "I looked up one time and they'd had the ball 28 minutes and we'd had it 17. You're not going to do much with that."
The victory by Carolina could present big problems for top-seeded Philadelphia, which on Jan. 11 will play host to the winner of today's Seattle-Green Bay game. The Eagles, who would have opened against Dallas had the Cowboys won, do not match up well defensively with the Packers, particularly running back Ahman Green.
Those potential matchups were not worth pondering for Carolina Coach John Fox, of course, not in the giddy excitement of Saturday's victory. He said he planned to begin studying St. Louis game tape first thing this morning.
"Obviously, they're going to be a very worthy challenge for us at their place where their record is good," Fox said of the Rams, who have won their last 14 games at the Edward Jones Dome. "We're going to give it our best shot."