By Abraham Gutierrez
Going in as double-digit underdogs, no one expected things to come easy for the Miami Dolphins when they visited the Carolina Panthers Monday night. After 60 minutes of play, things were worse than anyone anticipated, as the Fins had no answer for Cam Newton, finishing on the wrong end of a 45-21 thrashing.
The loss drops Miami’s record to 4-5 on the year and the team has now lost three straight games. Meanwhile, Carolina extended its winning streak to three games and now sports at 7-3 record.
Offensively, Miami didn’t perform poorly enough to get blown out by 24 points, particularly going up against the best defense in the league. As a unit, the Fins tallied 16 first downs (11 passing, 3 rushing, 2 penalties) and 313 yards of offense (213 passing yards, 100 rushing yards).
They also did a solid job of moving the sticks, converting on 6-of-11 third down opportunities, and did not allow a single sack. However, the Dolphins offense did have what would prove to be a very costly turnover.
Trailing 10-7 with less than a minute left to go in the half, Jay Cutler was picked off by Luke Kuechly on an ill-advised pass that would change the whole complexity of the ballgame.
“We had an eight-minute span there where the ballgame got away from us, and it just snowballed after that,” said Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. “We just couldn’t prevent the big runs, once they got going, after the turnover. That 14-point swing between the end of the half and the third quarter, that’s just one of those things that you can’t go against a team like this.”
Cutler completed 22-of-37 pass attempts for 213 yards, a pair of touchdowns and the aforementioned pick to earn a quarterback rating of 82.4. Additional offensive standouts for Miami included Kenyan Drake (7 carries, 82 yards, TD), Kenny Stills (5 receptions, 67 yards) and DeVante Parker (6 receptions, 66 yards), while Jarvis Landry (5 receptions, 42 yards, TD) and Julius Thomas (2 receptions, TD) were on the receiving end of Miami’s two aerial scores.
Defensively, Miami allowed Carolina to rack-up a franchise-record 548 yards and a season-high 45 points. The Fins “D” surrendered a whopping 30 first downs (15 passing, 12 rushing, 3 penalties) and an incredible 10-for-14 on crucial third-down situations.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was absolutely unstoppable, completing 21-of-35 passes for 254 yards and 4 touchdowns for a cool, 120.4 QBR. Cameron Artis-Payne (7 catches, 68 yards, TD) and Christian McCaffrey (5 catches, 23 yards, TD) were SuperCam’s favorite targets, each coming away with a score apiece.
Another eye-popping statistic can be found in the way the Panthers ran the ball, as they tallied 294 rushing yards on 36 touches for an average of 8.2 yards-per-carry. Once again, Newton put his stamp on this game with 95 yards on 5 carries, while Jonathan Stewart led the way with 110 yards on 17 rushes.
“We have to play consistently, this inconsistency is the thing that’s killing us,” said Cameron Wake. “We got to get back to being that team that does the things well that we did well in the first half of the season. The last few games, it hasn’t been that way.”
Special Teams: A
Miami special teams unit was once again solid. Punter Matt Haack continued his stellar play with 4 punts for an average of 41.8 yards per boot, a long of 48 yards and three punts that landed inside the Panthers’ 20-yard line.
Kicker Cody Parkey also did his part, going a perfect 3-for-3 on extra points conversions.
For the Dolphins’ coaching staff, play calling on both sides of the ball were once again an area that left much to be desired.
On defense, Miami became very predictable and Newton was able to pick them apart, capitalizing seemingly every time either through the air or with his legs. On offense, there were many questionable calls that were simply unnecessary, particularly with Miami down 10-7 heading into the break.
“There’s been calls that I’ve made that I wish I could take back,” Gase added. “We’re making mistakes at the wrong time.”
However, even with all chatter, the Fins second-year head coach isn’t about to delegate play-calling duties any time soon.
“No. That’s the one thing I like doing.” Gase quickly responded when asked if he would be willing to relinquish play-calling on offense.
Next Up: Fins Return Home to Face Bucs
In a game that was supposed to be played in Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season, the Dolphins return home to welcome the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6). Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens will serve as the backdrop for this intrastate rivalry. Opening kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.