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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- On a night defined as much by which Panthers did not play as which ones did, Carolina fell to 0-2 on the preseason with a 27-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins in front of 56,638 fans at Land Shark Stadium on Saturday.
The Panthers began the game without not only the five players who have been injured throughout the last two weeks of training camp but also wide receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad. Both practiced this past week but were held out for a shoulder injury and leg soreness, respectively.
But Carolina's absences multiplied after the action got under way, as middle linebacker Jon Beason and right tackle Jeff Otah succumbed to injuries within the game's first six minutes. Otah was back in action on the subsequent series, but Beason did not return, spending the remainder of the first half on the sideline.
"I was coming off the block and I don't know if someone came at my knee intentionally or someone fell on it," Beason said. "I just felt it. It feels more like a sprain than anything."
Beason, who stayed in the game for multiple plays before retreating to the bench said it was "definitely" not an anterior cruciate ligament, but he did not know the exact severity of the injury. "The fact that I kept playing on it is encouraging. We'll get some tests done tomorrow and go from there."
"There's always that concern," head coach John Fox said. "I'm not a doctor; the doctors will look at that and we'll know more after he gets evaluated."
Beason's injury forced Dan Connor into his most extensive action since he tore his anterior cruciate ligament last September at Minnesota. Connor handled middle-linebacking duties into the second half, logging six tackles. James Anderson also stepped forward, starting his second consecutive game at weakside linebacker, and finished with a team-leading eight tackles in addition to making two stops on special teams.
Even without Smith and Muhammad, the first-team offense managed a pair of touchdown drives before leaving the game at halftime. The first scoring march was a 70-yard drive that culminated in a 25-yard DeAngelo Williams touchdown run that found its primary propulsion from tight end Dante Rosario. He first resuscitated the drive with a 16-yard grad on third-and-12 that moved Carolina into Dolphins territory. Three plays later, he sprung Williams free for his sidewinding touchdown with a pancake block on Miami linebacker Channing Crowder.
"(Williams) kept his feet moving and just kept going," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "Not surprising; he's a heck of a running back. I saw him grow up right before my eyes over the course of the season ... He's doing well."
Carolina had another scoring chance on its next drive after Captain Munnerlyn weaved through Miami's punt coverage for a 58-yard return but failed to score. J.J. Jansen's snap on the ensuing field-goal attempt sailed slightly high, forcing Jason Baker to roll out and throw a pass that fell incomplete. The snap came at the end of the field covered by the baseball infield used for Florida Marlins games.
"We had them all on the dirt-- holder, kicker and snapper," Fox said. "We don't practice on the baseball field down at Wofford. It was a good experience, and these are great lessons. But (Jansen) snapped the ball very well other than that one."
But the Panthers did turn a Miami special-teams snafu into a touchdown later in the second quarter when Na'il Diggs recovered a muffed punt, propelling Carolina on a 29-yard drive to a two-yard Decori Birmingham touchdown. The score gave Carolina a 14-10 halftime advantage.
Miami seized control in the third quarter, scoring on consecutive drives to open the second half to take a 20-14 lead. Carolina responded with a 21-yard John Kasay field goal early in the fourth quarter to narrow the deficit to three points.
The Panthers had two chances to tie or reclaim the lead in the fourth quarter as the defense forced a pair of Miami three-and-outs midway through the quarter. The first opportunity went astray on a three-and-out that followed a punt Larry Beavers fumbled and recovered. The next bouncing punt didn't prove so lucky for Carolina; it hit off Ryne Robinson after he'd called for a fair catch. Miami recovered at the Carolina 14-yard-line and scored on a Joe Kowalewski touchdown catch five plays later, effectively sealing the game.
All three of Carolina's punt returners were part of at least one fumble or muff apiece during the game as Munnerlyn fumbled in the second quarter.
• Five Panthers who did not practice last week did not play Saturday night: offensive lineman C.J. Davis, linebackers Thomas Davis and Landon Johnson, safety Nate Salley and running back Jonathan Stewart.
• After Gary Barnidge started at tight end against the Giants on Monday, Dante Rosario and Jeff King started against Miami as Carolina began in a two-tight end formation. One play later, Barnidge was in action as the only tight end. Rosario and King played into the fourth quarter.
• Three quarterbacks played for the Panthers: Delhomme, Matt Moore and Josh McCown. Delhomme finished with 47 yards on 5-of-7 passing, while Moore had 41 yards on 4-of-9 passing and McCown totaled 61 yards on 7-of-12 passing. Delhomme had the highest quarterback rating of the three, generating an 89.6 mark.
• Williams averaged 5.0 yards per carry, gaining up 40 yards on eight attempts.
• Rosario's 54 yards on three receptions led the Panthers.
• With Smith and Muhammad sidelined, Kenneth Moore and Dwayne Jarrett started at wide receiver. Moore had one reception for nine yards, while Jarrett did not catch a pass.