Breaking Down the Key Plays in Panthers' Loss to Miami

Thursday night's game against Miami was similar to Sunday's game against Atlanta. It was an even game, and it was decided on about a dozen key plays: Turnovers and third-down plays, especially in the red zone.

On Sunday the Panthers made the clutch plays, while their opponent did not. Thursday night, however, the reverse was true. Miami scored touchdowns on two of three jaunts inside the 20, while Carolina went 0-for-2. The Panthers committed the game's lone turnover -- a Delhomme interception -- and it occurred in the red zone. Miami, meanwhile, fumbled twice but recovered both fumbles.

The story of this game, though, was the third downs. Carolina converted only 3 of 13, failing on six consecutive third-down attempts stretching from early in the second quarter until early in the fourth. Miami converted 7 of 15, including four in a row in the second quarter. Those four conversions, along with consecutive stops on Carolina third downs, allowed Miami to turn a 3-0 deficit midway through the second quarter into a 14-3 lead at halftime. The Dolphins did not trail again.

Here is a look at those six key third-down plays:

Situation: Carolina ball, Third-and-7 at the Carolina 44. Carolina led 3-0. 9:40 to play in the second quarter.

Formations: The Panthers lined up in the shotgun with one back and four receivers (two on each side). Miami used three linemen with a linebacker showing blitz and three other defenders in the box.

What happened: A Delhomme pass for tight end Jeff King fell incomplete in Miami territory.

How it happened: King lined up in the right slot and ran a route left to the Miami 46. Delhomme rifled the ball to King in between three defenders. King caught it but could not hold on when the Dolphins' Yeremiah Bell and Reggie Torbor sandwiched him.

The result: The Panthers punted on the next play, ending a third straight drive that died near midfield.


Situation: Miami ball, Third-and-16, Carolina 33. 3-0 Panthers. 5:42 to play in second.

Formations: Miami lined up with one back, one tight end right and three receivers (two right). Carolina used four linemen and dropped several defenders back in zone coverage.

What happened: Lex Hilliard ran for 18 yards and a Miami first down.

How it happened: Hilliard lined up in the backfield and took the handoff, running in between left tackle and left guard. (This was no draw; it was a simple run play). A receiver on the left side blocked a corner, the center got downfield and blocked another defender at the 28, and another defender overpursued to the outside. Hilliard dodged that defensive back's tackle and broke an arm tackle attempt from defensive tackle Damione Lewis at the 28. He cut inside, used a block from a receiver on corner Richard Marshall at the 23 and collided with Marshall and safety Chris Harris at the 19. He then dragged them to the 15.

The result: Miami kept its drive going, avoiding a likely field goal attempt.


Situation: Miami ball, Third-and-9, Carolina 15, 3-0 Carolina, 4:07 to play in second.

Formations: Miami lined up in the shotgun with one back, three receivers (two right) and a tight end left. Carolina used four linemen with one linebacker showing blitz over left tackle and two other defenders in the box.

What happened: Quarterback Chad Henne connected with tailback Ricky Williams on a 15-yard touchdown pass.

How it happened: The Panthers blitzed a linebacker over right tackle, with the linebacker who had shown blitz dropping back into coverage on tight end Joey Haynos. Haynos ran a route towards the sideline, drawing the linebacker out of the play. William flared left out of the backfield uncovered, then cut up and in, settling at the 10. Henne threw low and behind Williams, who caught the ball and turned upfield. He broke a tackle by linebacker Nail Diggs at the 6 and fended off linebacker Jon Beason at the 1, scooting into the end zone.

The result: Despite committing two penalties on the drive, Miami completed an 81-yard march with a touchdown and took the lead for the first time.


Situation: Carolina ball, Third-and-9, Carolina 23. 7-3 Miami. 3:09 to play in second.

Formations: Carolina lined up with two backs, including a fullback left and tailback in I-formation. The Panthers also had a tight end left and a receiver on each side. Miami used four linemen and three other defenders in the box.

What happened: Miami linebacker Joey Porter sacked Delhomme for a 6-yard loss.

How it happened: Porter lined up at right defensive end and rushed wide of left tackle Travelle Wharton. Fullback Tony Fiametta accidentally picked Wharton and Porter ran free around him, nailing Delhomme.

The result: The Panthers' first three-and-out of the game forced them to punt from inside their own 20 with plenty of time for Miami to try for another score before the half. Jason Baker shanked the punt and Davone Bess returned it to the Carolina 29.


Situation: Miami ball, Third-and-6, Carolina 25. 7-3 Miami. 2:16 to play in second.

Formations: Miami lined up with one back, three receivers (two left) and a tight end left. Carolina used four linemen with two linebackers in the box and three corners in press coverage.

What happened: Henne completed an 8-yard pass to Bess for a first down.

How it happened: The tight end went in motion right, settling on the right side of the line. Henne took a five-step drop and fired towards the right sideline for Bess, who was well-covered by corner Chris Gamble. Bess ran a buttonhook and got in position to make the catch. He jumped and corralled the ball in front of Gamble.

The result: Miami again avoided a likely field goal attempt and continued a drive.


Situation: Miami ball, Third-and-goal, Carolina 2. 7-3 Miami. 1:04 to play in second.

Formations: Miami lined up in the wildcat, with Williams in the shotgun and a fullback right. Miami used eight linemen and a receiver left. Carolina had seven linemen.

What happened: Williams ran outside for the touchdown.

How it happened: The fullback buried a defensive back and Williams sprinted outside right. He hesitated briefly, leading Beason to stall too. Beason then chased Williams from the middle towards the sideline, but Williams dove ahead of him and hit the pylon with the ball.

The result: Miami led 14-3 after the extra point with 57 seconds to play in the half. Despite being dominated for much of the half, the Dolphins were in control at halftime.

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