Three takeaways from Panthers' win over Dolphins

CHARLOTTE — When Cam Newton is having fun, the Panthers are a dangerous team.

Newton and the Panthers had plenty of fun Monday in a 45-21 win over the Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers (7-3) turned in perhaps their most complete game of the season with a balanced offense and stifling defense, albeit against the NFL’s worst offense.

As frustrating Monday was for the Dolphins (4-5), who had a hard time establishing anything against the league’s top defense, the Panthers — and especially Newton — were a loose bunch. They shared the load Monday with four different Panthers finding the end zone. 

Coming off a disappointing 6-10 season, the Panthers have now won three straight entering their bye week to keep pace with the red-hot Saints (7-2) in the NFC South. The Saints beat the Panthers in Charlotte in Week 3 and the Panthers will have their shot at revenge on Dec. 3. 

Here are three takeaways from the Panthers’ win over the Dolphins

1. Panthers have rediscovered their identity — Run the ball and let the defense dominate. That’s what got the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, when Newton made plays with his right arm and legs. That formula worked to perfection on Monday and is what the Panthers have been doing during their three-game win streak.

Newton threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another 95 yards. Jonathan Stewart had 110 yards on 17 carries as the Panthers rolled up 294 rushing yards against the NFL’s seventh-ranked rush defense. Newton had the biggest run of the night, busting off a 69-yard run immediately after the Dolphins scored on a 66-yard Kenyan Drake run. 

2. Not having Kelvin Benjamin makes Newton a better quarterback — Benjamin was Newton’s security blanket and not having the 6-5 receiver forces Newton to spread the ball around. Newton completed 21 of his 35 attempts to seven different receivers. He would have had at least three more completions had it not been for drops by Russell Shepard and rookie Curtis Samuel, who left after a third-quarter drop with an ugly left ankle injury.

Newton’s four touchdown passes were to three different receivers, including a pair to Devin Funchess. The third-year receiver from Michigan finished with five receptions for 92 yards and a 32-yard touchdown early in in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.

3. Short passing game is Miami’s best run offense — Miami has the NFL’s worst offense, with the third-worst ground game. They ran for 100 yards on Monday, 66 of which came on Drake’s touchdown run, as the Panthers defensive front, led by Kawann Short, dominated.

That was the first rushing touchdown of the season for the Dolphins, who didn’t have a run longer than 5 yards on Monday until there were six minutes remaining in the first half. While they couldn’t establish the ground game, the only time Miami was able to sustain a drive was when they used a series of short Cutler passes to nickel-and-dime the Panthers defense. The result was a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard shovel pass to tight end Julius Thomas.

When Cutler did push the ball downfield, he was unable to connect and finished 22 of 37 for 213 yards. An acrobatic interception by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was on a pass 15 yards downfield and set up a Carolina touchdown before halftime.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase would be best served to use the short passing game as an alternative ground game. Outside of the long Drake run, it was the only thing that worked Monday. 

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