CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers would love to be able to bottle the fourth quarter magic they've relied on this preseason and break it out come the regular season, but they know it doesn't work that way.
So after another dramatic victory Saturday night spearheaded by players that in some instances won't be on the roster in a couple of weeks, the Panthers found themselves happy to be 2-0 but hoping for a little first quarter magic.
"We didn't start out the game really well, and the coaches and players were bummed out about that," running back Brandon Wegher said. "We need to improve because when it comes the regular season, you've got to start fast. But it's also a testament to this team's will to come back and fight like that."
Wegher, an undrafted rookie whose late touchdown put the Panthers in position to win last week in Buffalo, found the end zone twice in the second half Saturday to help Carolina rally to a 31-30 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium.
Wegher scored on a 9-yard run late in the third quarter to get Carolina within 21-16 before the Dolphins added a field goal early in the fourth quarter. But with 3:15 left, third-string quarterback Joe Webb directed a 65-yard scoring drive capped by an 18-yard strike to rookie wide receiver Damiere Byrd. Carolina went for two and Webb did it himself, juking past a Miami defender on a bootleg to tie it at 24-24.
"We got out there with nothing to lose and a bunch of opportunities to make plays," Byrd said. "We don't feel that much pressure. We just try to make every play we can."
On Miami's first play after the kickoff, undrafted rookie defensive tackle Terry Redden made an acrobatic one-handed interception of Dolphins quarterback Josh Freeman near the line of scrimmage and returned it to the 4-yard line. Wegher steamed in on the next play with 2:49 left to give the Panthers their first lead.
The Dolphins answered quickly with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Freeman to tight end Gerell Robinson with 2:13 left, but safety Marcus Ball broke up a two-point conversion pass and the Panthers held on.
"It's our job as teammates to pick everybody up," Webb said. "We might have a first team, second team and third team, but at the end of the day, we're all Carolina Panthers."
The first- and second-teamers needed a helping hand after a struggling start.
The Dolphins took a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter on running back Damien Williams' second touchdown. Carolina's first-team offense, after a pair of three-and-outs to start, then put the Dolphins on the doorstep when a Cam Newton interception set Miami up at the 3.
"We've just got to find ways to execute better – whether it's myself, whether it's the offensive line or whoever," said Newton, who did direct one encouraging drive before departing. "There's no need to point fingers. We know what we've got to do.
"There's no need to sulk over a win. We've just got to have more efficient play from the first group."
On the first play after the interception, the Dolphins challenged a ruling that Williams was down just before hitting the pylon for his third touchdown, but replay review instead found that Williams had fumbled out of the end zone for a touchback.
Carolina's first-team offense responded with an impressive drive that stalled inside the 1-yard line before the group called it a night. Newton said that in the regular season, he believes he would have scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1, when the Dolphins sniffed out a play-action fake but Newton scrambled around the left side and lunged for the pylon but came up short.
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson helped get the Panthers back within striking distance late in the second quarter, setting up field goals of 48, 46 and 52 yards by Graham Gano to make it 14-9. The final field goal was made possible by a Teddy Williams interception – one of too few times the Panthers took advantage of first-half opportunities in the estimation of their head coach.
"You can't beat good teams like that," head coach Ron Rivera said. "The nine penalties that we had that prolonged their drives. We had three big negative plays wiped out by (penalties). The other thing is we've got to take the ball away. We had the ball on the ground twice and didn't recover, and we had our hands on the ball twice and didn't intercept it.
"Also third downs on both sides of the ball disappoints me. We had opportunities to get off the field, and we didn't."
View game action photos from Carolina's 31-30 preseason win over Miami.