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Cam Newton crashes, Tua Tagovailoa shines as Dolphins reel off 4th straight win

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Cam Newton was a revelation in his first two games back with the Carolina Panthers

The honeymoon reached a screeching halt on Sunday. 

The Miami Dolphins defense stifled a stagnant Panthers attack on Sunday while Tua Tagovailoa delivered on offense in a dominant 33-10 victory for their fourth straight win. When the margin reached 30-10 early in the fourth quarter, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule pulled Newton in favor of backup P.J. Walker.

Newton's dubious passing day one of the worst this century

After sneaking in a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter, it was all downhill for Newton, who finished completing 5 of 21 passes for 92 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns through the air. His second pick set the Dolphins up with a nine-yard field that they converted into a 14-7 lead with a Tagovailoa touchdown pass to rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle. 

The Dolphins cruised from there.

Per the NFL, Newton's 23.8% completion rate was the worst for a quarterback with at least 20 attempts since Joey Harrington's 5-for-22 effort for the Detroit Lions in 2004.

Tua, Dolphins keep finding their stride

Where Newton struggled, Tagovailoa shone on a nearly flawless day. The second-season starter for Miami completed 27 of 31 pass attempts for 230 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. Waddle continued to break out, hauling in nine of Tagovailoa's passes for 137 yards and the early go-ahead touchdown. 

The win was the fourth straight for the Dolphins' following a seven-game losing streak and keeps their distant playoff hopes alive at 5-7. The defense has led the effort while holding opponents to 17 points or fewer in each game of the four-game win streak. 

Which Cam will show up next in Carolina?

The loss reopens quarterback questions that the Panthers hoped they had answered when they signed Newton ahead of Week 10's game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Sam Darnold experiment that was already failing reached its conclusion when a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve

The Panthers then looked to the former face of the franchise who won an MVP in Carolina and led the team to its second Super Bowl appearance after the 2015 season. Newton delivered in spot appearances against the Cardinals, scoring a pair of touchdowns in a 34-10 road win

Cam Newton's third game back in Carolina did not go as planned. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Cam Newton's third game back in Carolina did not go as planned. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

With a full week to acclimate himself with the Panthers offense, Newton took over at quarterback full-time for last week's game against the Washington Football Team. Washington won, 27-21, but Newton looked much more like his former self than the aging quarterback who lost a preseason quarterback battle with rookie Mac Jones in New England. 

Newton completed 21 of 27 passes for 189 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers in the loss to Washington. He also ran for 46 yards and a score. He continued to look good early on Sunday against Miami with a 64-yard laser to DJ Moore that defied questions about his downfield accuracy that have plagued him since he suffered a shoulder in jury in 2016

But there were no Newton highlights to be found beyond the first quarter as Miami's defense had its way.

Christian McCaffrey sidelined after rolling ankle

It didn't help matters for the Panthers that an ankle injury sidelined Christian McCaffrey for much of the day. The oft-injured former All-Pro rolled his left ankle before halftime and spent much of the second half pacing the sideline while ceding carries to backup Chuba Hubbard. 

But even a player of McCaffrey's talents wasn't going to make a difference on Sunday. Carolina's offense didn't stand a chance with or without him. Now the Panthers move forward with continued questions around the quarterback position. For now, though, there's no question about who's starting. 

Rhule: Cam's our starter

Rhule made clear after the game that Newton remains Carolina's starting quarterback despite being pulled in the fourth quarter. He told reporters that he made the switch late because Newton's protection wasn't holding up and that he believed Walker stood a better chance in a hurry-up offense because he knows the two-minute playbook. 

The 5-7 Panthers now have a bye next week to hang their hopes on McCaffrey healing and the offense to get back on track with Newton after a brutal day in South Florida.