MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It would be inaccurate to blame one player for the Panthers losing to the Dolphins Sunday, because plenty of them had a hand in it.
But if you were looking for a metaphor for their recent struggles, Haason Reddick's third-quarter taunting penalty serves as an indicative one.
Last week, the veteran outside linebacker was the one talking about accountability, about the need to put friendships aside and call out players who were coming up short of the standard.
Sunday, he came up short. And he knows it.
The Panthers were trailing 20-10 midway through the third quarter, when Reddick made a second-down stop that would have forced the Dolphins into a third-and-14. Even on a day when the offense struggled, it was a spot they could have rallied from.
Instead, a Dolphins player put his hands on Reddick, and he reacted, drawing a taunting penalty that turned into another 15 yards downfield and a first down. They'd finish a 13-play drive with a touchdown four plays later, and with a 27-10 lead following a drive that took nearly half the third quarter (7:24).
"Something happened during the play that I didn't like. I should have had my emotions in check," Reddick began when asked about the play. "But what happened, I didn't like, and I reacted, which is unacceptable, as a leader on the team, a veteran. Completely unacceptable.
"I take all the responsibility for that."
Again, there were plenty of breakdowns that kept it from being all on Reddick's play, but that encapsulated a frustrated, and frustrating day. A week after letting the Washington Football Team run for 190, the Panthers allowed the Dolphins to put together long drives, run the ball at will, and make big plays in the passing game against the league's top-ranked pass defense (rookie Jaylen Waddle had nine catches for 137 yards and a touchdown, similar to the way Washington's Terry McLaurin made big plays).
The Panthers have a very thin margin for error at the moment. So while the defense still can be good, seeing Reddick lose composure at the wrong time speaks to a larger issue.
Head coach Matt Rhule was direct, when asked (before Reddick spoke to reporters) what precipitated the incident.
"Does it matter? He told me a guy grabbed me, and I told him, 'Does it matter?'" Rhule said. "So, the guy grabbed you. We had third and (long), and we needed those plays to win that game. So we'll have to learn from it."
It was just the second time all year the Panthers have been called for taunting (Ian Thomas had one in the loss to the Patriots), and that underscored the frustration that it would happen when it did.
"We had other people hit us and turn and look at our sideline, and our guys have been great," Rhule said. "And all of a sudden we get in this ball game, and I can psychoanalyze for hours ... These guys really want to win, they're trying so hard to win, and not have success and they try harder, get emotional a little bit and it gets away from us. Guys are yelling at each other because they want to win.
"No doubt in my mind guys were ready to play. We knew it was going to be a tough game. So I don't think they weren't ready. I just think we got outplayed in certain areas and they started to panic a little bit, and did some things that were uncharacteristic. And when you learn that when things aren't going well, to settle down, and take a breath, and go back to your technique, you have a chance. A lot of our players are not doing that at the level I need them to do it. So that's on me."
Defensive end Brian Burns said he wasn't necessarily surprised that Reddick lost his cool, because "it's an emotional game."
"Yeah, it wasn't a good play, it wasn't a good call by him, but I'm not going to blame him," Burns said. " I know how emotions can happen in this game. It's not the smartest thing and it didn't help us out, but I wouldn't blame him for that. And I'm not surprised, it can happen to anyone."
The bigger question for the Panthers is how they steer out of this skid at the moment. The defense is the thing they can generally count on, and they've given up 60 points in the last two games, turning 5-5 and playoff hopes into 5-7 and uncertainty heading into a long bye week.
Burns said he definitely thought the defense could return to its previous standard, "if we stay with our process, stay with what we started with."
But asked if they got away from that process lately, he paused for a long moment before saying: "I think I would say so a little bit."
"You can find yourself doing what you normally wouldn't do," Burns said. "It's all about bouncing back, though. It's a little human nature to get complacent or whatever it might be, but it's all about bouncing back and getting back to yourself and your process."
And no one knows that at the moment better than Reddick.
The week after being the one preaching accountability, he was the one who had to raise his hand.
"I came in talking about accountability, and one play, I let my emotions get the better of me," he said quietly. "As a veteran, I should never let that happen."
View photos from Miami as the Panthers take on the Dolphins in Week 12.