Dolphins-Panthers: What we learned

Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchangeNovember 25, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera felt his team disrespected the Miami Dolphins.
Wide receiver Steve Smith admitted Carolina "underestimated" Miami.
And Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was smacked in the mouth - literally.
The result was a 13-point first-half deficit and about 48 consecutive minutes in which Carolina trailed Miami.
Carolina overcame it all, using Newton's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds remaining to rally to a 20-16 victory over the Dolphins Sunday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium.
"I felt a couple times we were going through the motions - like (the Dolphins) are supposed to lay down," Rivera said. "I'm disappointed in how we played in the first half. I felt like (our players) disrespected them in the first half. (The Dolphins) are a much better football team than we gave them credit for."
Newton was hit on the first play of the game and bit his lip.
"It took him a little bit to get refocused," Rivera said. "Sometimes that spooks a quarterback a little bit. And I think our offensive line was spooked, too. They were a little bit concerned, and they played tight the rest of that first half."
With the win, the Panthers (8-3) tied a franchise record with seven straight victories. It's the longest active winning streak in the NFL.
Miami (5-6) built a 16-3 lead but failed to run the ball effectively and could not hold on, allowing the Panthers to convert fourth-down plays on two drives late in the game.
Trailing 16-13 with 2:33 left in the game, the Panthers converted a fourth-and-10 from their own 20 when Newton completed a pass to Smith.
"That's 'Agent 89' doing what he does best," Newton said of Smith. "He got us out of our funk."
The critical connection led to a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive kept alive by a late-hit penalty on Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, who struck Newton while he was out of bounds.
"(The referee) made the call, and we moved on," Jones said. "I didn't say anything."
Miami had one last chance in the final seconds. The Dolphins nearly hit a deep pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace, which fell incomplete near the goal line. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked on the next play to end the game.
"I tried to find the ball," said Wallace, who had five receptions for 127 yards. "I tried to make a play, and it just came out of my hand. We have to make plays at the end when it counts. We've got to have a killer instinct. I don't think we have it that well right now."
Carolina took the second-half kickoff and drove 83 yards on 14 plays for a touchdown to cut Miami's lead to 16-13. Rivera's decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Panthers' 41 proved a wise risk. Newton gained eight yards on a quarterback keeper and then scored on a 5-yard run to make it 16-13 with 8:19 left.

What the Panthers said
"If it is, it shouldn't be. We had enough time to rest up." -- Coach Ron Rivera on whether his team had a hangover following Carolina's "Monday Night Football" win over New England

What the Dolphins said
"Obviously, the end of the first half (giving up a last-play field goal) hurt us. Offensively, we got off to a good start, but we needed more touchdowns." -- Quarterback Ryan Tannehill

What we learned about the Panthers
1. Cam Newton is making plays on command. He completed a season-low 50 percent of his passes for just 174 yards, which is his third-worst showing of the year. Yet, he converted two huge fourth-down plays that led to a pair of second-half touchdowns. In the third quarter, he converted a fourth-and-1 play with an eight-yard keeper. Then, with 2:33 left in the game, he completed a 19-yard pass to Steve Smith to move the chains on fourth-and-10.
2. The defense continues to be the foundation of the team, even after a disappointing first half. Carolina allowed 16 points in the first half and got beat deep twice. In the second half, the Panthers held the Dolphins to zero points and 119 total yards. The Dolphins were able to rush for just 52 yards on 3.1 yards per carry. Miami was also held to 4 of 16 on third down.

What we learned about the Dolphins
1. Killer instinct is learned, and the Dolphins are missing it. Coach Joe Philbin played too conservatively with his defense at the end of the first half. He backed his secondary way off the receivers and allowed a short pass to Brandon LaFell, which became a 29-yard catch and run. That led to a field goal on the last play of the first half, and those points were important at the end.
2. Mike Wallace can still get behind the defense. The Dolphins' big-ticket free-agent signing this past offseason has been mostly quiet. He entered Sunday with just one touchdown this season. But against Carolina, he broke through for five catches and 127 yards. He had a 53-yard TD play and a 57-yard catch, his two longest plays of the season.