Dominant defense, offensive explosion leads Dolphins over Panthers in 4th straight win

·4 min read

The Dolphins took another step to becoming the team many envisioned they could be at the start of the 2021 season.

Led by another stifling defensive performance and an offense that produced its largest scoring output of the season, the Dolphins beat the Carolina Panthers, 33-10, at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.

“We looked like the team that we kind of wanted to be at the beginning of the year,” said quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who completed 27-of-31 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown. “It looked like a lot of guys went out there confident, knowing what to expect, offensively, defensively and in the kicking game.”

It’s the fourth consecutive victory for the Dolphins (5-7), who continue to set themselves up nicely to get back to .500 and potentially creep into the AFC playoff picture with fives games remaining in the regular season. The team will host the New York Giants (4-7) and Jets (3-8) in its next two games, with a bye week sandwiched between the matchups.

“I thought the guys had a good week of preparation,” coach Brian Flores said. “I think that showed up today, and I thought our coaches did a great job this week getting them prepared. Thanksgiving week — there’s a lot going on, so I think Josh [Boyer] defensively, George [Godsey] and Eric [Studesville] offensively, Danny [Crossman] in the kicking game, I thought they all did a nice job getting these guys prepared and I think the players executed.”

After weeks of not playing complementary football, the Dolphins put offense, defense and special teams together for the team’s most well-rounded performance of the season. The blowout victory began on special teams, where linebacker Duke Riley blocked a punt that was recovered by cornerback Justin Coleman for a 2-yard touchdown, giving the Dolphins a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

The Panthers (5-7) responded with a 1-yard run by quarterback Cam Newton, tying the score at 7, but that would be the sole highlight of Newton’s afternoon. Newton, making his second straight start of the season, completed just 5-of-21 passes for 92 yards and two interceptions and was benched in the fourth quarter for P.J. Walker. The 13.4 passer rating from Carolina’s quarterbacks was the lowest mark for any team this season.

The Dolphins defense, which forced three Panthers turnovers, kept its opponent under 400 yards for the seventh consecutive game.

“You feel the momentum within the game,” said rookie safety Jevon Holland, who first intercepted Newton in the second quarter. “Before the game, it’s kind of hard to understand where the game is going to go, but after the first series, you’ve got to start fast. That’s our thing. We’ve got to start fast, and so we come out physical. First play you saw [safety Eric] Rowe and ‘X’ [cornerback Xavien Howard] on that breakup, almost [cause] a fumble. That’s the kind of energy stuff that fuels you for the game, so then you just try to keep that going, try to build on that like a giant snowball.”

Newton’s second pick was the 25th career interception for Howard and it set up the Dolphins’ second score in the second quarter. Three plays after the takeaway, Tagovailoa found rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle for a 9-yard touchdown to put the Dolphins up 14-7.

The Tagovailoa-Waddle pairing was perhaps at the best it’s been all season. Waddle recorded the first 100-yard game of his career by halftime and finished with nine catches for 137 yards, including a season-high 57-yard catch-and-run.

It was another efficient performance for Tagovailoa and an offense continuing to make strides after early-season struggles. The unit’s 33 points were the most it has scored all season. The offense controlled the ball for a season-high 37 minutes and 34 seconds, and running back Myles Gaskin (16 rushes, 49 yards) contributed a pair of 3-yard touchdown runs while Phillip Lindsay made his team debut, rushing 12 times for 42 yards.

Flores and multiple players were quick to point out that the team’s performance was far from perfect. A 64-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver D.J. Moore was the result of a busted coverage and the sole blemish for the defense, which sacked Panthers quarterbacks five times. A bad snap from center Austin Reiter kept the offense from adding to its 21-7 lead before halftime and instead allowed the Panthers to cut into the deficit with a field goal. Penalties prevented potentially an even more dominant offensive outing.

However, steady improvements from all sides of the ball and reduced mistakes have allowed for the Dolphins to reverse the fortunes of a 1-7 start and possibly play games with postseason implications as the schedule enters December.

“We’ve always thought this was the team for us, but things didn’t go our way early in the season,” said defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who recorded a sack and another batted pass. “But we got four in a row. Got to keep it rolling. Now we’ve got the Giants next.”

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