The Miami Dolphins defeated the Carolina Panthers last night 20-10, not with a stunning defensive stand. Not with an exceptional offense in a shoot out with the opponent. Not with the special teams kicking the Dolphins to a win.
It was an all around performance. The offense looked good. The defense looked good. The special teams looked good.
And Miami won.
Some of the positive feeling has to be tempered by the fact that the victory was over a team that finished last year 2-14, was starting a rookie at quarterback, and it was a preseason game. But, either way, the Dolphins looked much better this week than they did against the Atlanta Falcons a week ago.
The offense looked good. I haven't written anything about the Dolphins quarterbacks for a week. It was a difficult week, but I purposely wanted to make us look at some of the other things going on with the team, and stop the maddness of Chad Henne supporters vs. Henne haters. Well, last night, Henne decided to quiet the critics himself.
The often ridiculed starter went 15-for-24 for 194 yards, along with 20 yards rushing - playing the entire first half. The most important factor of Henne's performance though was a 0. Zero turnovers. Henne looked decisive. He was looking down field, scanning receivers, and making the smart choices with where he placed the ball. Henne looked, encouragingly, like a starting quarterback in the NFL.
All day yesterday we discussed the need for the Dolphins' offense to establish itself and to gain some momentum. Mission accomplished.
Henne came out early, looking for Brandon Marshall, who made his 2011 preseason debut, and Reggie Bush, who made his Dolphins debut after coming over via trade from New Orleans this offseason. Both Marshall and Bush figure to be major impact players for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's system, and both looked it against the Panthers.
Marshall caught 5 passes for 46 yards against Carolina, running sharp routes and being hit perfectly from Henne. The two had a much publicized dysfunctional relationship at the end of the 2010 season, but have started to put last year behind them, and the results are starting to come on the field.
Meanwhile, Bush came out to prove he is not just a scat back. Running with authority, and often between the tackles, Bush gained 48 yards on 8 carries. The former Heisman Trophy winner also added two receptions for 33 yards.
Rookie running back Daniel Thomas also found success Friday night, gaining 52 yards on 12 carries, and finding the endzone on a 4-yard, second period score - his first as an NFL player.
Henne wasn't perfect last night, however. On a play similar to last week's 44-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brian Hartline, Henne missed Hartline last night. It was actually a decent pass, just a little ahead of the streaking wide out. Henne also took a shot down field to Clyde Gates, but did not get enough loft on the ball to allow the speedster to run under it. Given more time to develop some chemistry, the Henne-to-Gates deep threat could become an extremely effective weapon.
But, that was it. Otherwise, Henne was solid. And, there's no doubt that he has a strangle hold on the starting spot for Miami going into the season.
The Dolphins did have some sturggles on the offensive side of the ball, however. Tackle Lydon Murtha, starting in place of Jake Long, has been exceptional thus far through training camp. Not last night. He repeatedly drew flags, often negating solid plays from Henne. Murtha was flagged on a Henne 8-yard scramble for illegal use of hands, bringing the ball back to the Miami 41, and leading to a punt. He was also called for a holding penalty, negating a 9-yard pass from Henne to Hartline - although the offense overcame the setback, resulting in a 1-yard touchdown plunge from running back Lex Hilliard.
Second string quarterback Matt Moore played the second half, going 6-for-10 for 73 yards. He also had the only turnover for the Dolphins, fumbling the ball on the only sack Carolina got Friday night.
The defense wasn't going to let the offense have all the glory under the lights at Sun Life Stadium. Last year's sixth ranked defense held rookie Cam Newton, in his first start, and the Carolina offense scoreless throughout the first three quarters of play. Newton went 7-for-14 for 66 yards, with four runs for 18 additional yards. The team only crossed midfield once in the first half, on a seven yard run from Newton, on the second-to-last play of the half.
Newton did show his arm strength, though. As time expired, heading in to the half, Newton effortlessly threw a Hail Mary pass off his back foot 55-yards to the end zone.
Overall, the defense held the Panthers to 199 total yards, with just 68 yards rushing. If you remove Newton's 18 yards, and the 4 yards backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen gained on a scarmble in the second half, the Panthers only rushed for 46 yards. Linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett dominated the middle of the field, shutting down nearly every running lane before Carolina rushers Josh Vaughn and Tyrell Sutton could get started.
The pass rush was effective throughout the night, with linebacker Cameron Wake introducing himself to Newton, for one of Miami's three quarterback hits. Fellow linebacker Jason Taylor added another, while defensive end Ryan Baker added a sack.
They weren't the only ones to ensure the rookie met them during the game. Cornerback Vontae Davis crushed the former Auburn player and reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Newton was looking to run for a first down when Davis stopped him, making the quarterback lose his helmet in the process.
The special teams added their touch to the game, with kicker Dan Carpenter going 2-for-2 on field goals, including a long of 44-yards, and making both points after, resulting in 8 points. Punter Brandon Fields kicked the ball three times, with two punts finishing inside the 20-yard line, and the third being a touchback.
The only questionable part of the special teams was the kick returning. Multiple times, the returners, Phillip Livas and Gates, brought the ball out of the endzone. I am going to assume that the coaches asked them to bring the ball out of the endzone so they could see the kick returns, but it was a little odd.
The announced attendance at the game was 54,157, but watching on TV, and media estimates put the actual crowd at around 30,000. Hopefully, with better weather, a more explosive team, and games starting to mean more, the Miami faithful will fill Sun Life Stadium. Otherwise, the Dolphins may want to move with the Marlins next year to the new, smaller, more intimate Marlins Stadium. But, if they don't, the Marlins last home game this year is September 28, meaning there should only be three more games (Preseason Week 4, Week 1, and Week 2) with the infield dirt for the Dolphins.
Friday night was a solid game for the Dolphins, especially as they look to build momentum for the regular season. All aspects of the team seemed to work together, something that did not happen very often last year. Hopefully this is the start of another special year in Miami.