MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - As evidenced by the infield dirt that runs from the edge of one end zone nearly to midfield, Sun Life Stadium doubles as home of the Florida Marlins.
To borrow from the baseball vernacular, the Carolina Panthers were slow to get out of the batter's box Friday night against the facility's football tenant, falling 20-10 to the Miami Dolphins.
The Panthers couldn't maintain the momentum gained from a 20-10 victory over the New York Giants in their preseason opener. They'll try to get back on the right track when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday.
"It was disappointing. We had some opportunities to make some plays, and we didn't," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It was not good enough. It's not acceptable to play the way we did with the opportunities we had. We didn't do the things we needed to do."
Carolina did get some things done late. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen broke up the shutout with a drive that nearly matched the Panthers' time of possession for the entire first half – a 7:13 march punctuated by Adi Kunalic's 38-yard kick early in the fourth quarter.
On Miami's ensuing possession, defensive end Ugo Chinasa sacked former Carolina quarterback Matt Moore and forced a fumble that defensive end Thomas Keiser recovered at the 15. Four plays later, running back Tyrell Sutton scored from 4 yards out.
"It's always good when you're able to score at the end of games," Clausen said. "It doesn't leave as bad a taste in your mouth."
Overall, however, the performance paled in comparison to the opener, and Carolina's quarterback picture gained little clarity with the offense stifled most of the night.
Clausen played the entire second half and completed 9-of-15 passes for 69 yards. Cam Newton got the start and played the entire first half because of the lack of offensive snaps early, completing 7-of-14 passes for 66 yards.
Five of Newton's completions went to tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen – who both starred at the University of Miami – while the only first-half reception by a wide receiver was a 2-yarder to Armanti Edwards.
"It went all right, but it could have been way better. We just couldn't find a way to stay on track," Newton said. "Three-and-outs are not acceptable, and we put our defense in some lose-lose situations. They had some long drives, and we couldn't sustain our drives."
When the starters were in, the Dolphins forced the Panthers to alter their plan of attack at quarterback by dominating time of possession - and everything else - in the first half to build a 17-0 lead. Miami held a 22:09 to 7:51 edge in the first half, leading the Panthers to stick with Newton for the entire half rather than turn to Clausen early in the second as planned.
The offense managed just 90 yards and three first downs in the half.
"A lot of people will try to put it on (the quarterbacks), but as a whole we're going through growing pains in the new offense," center Ryan Kalil said. "We definitely have a lot of talent on this team, but we have a ways to go. We've got a lot of things we've got to get right, a lot of timing stuff. It's just a matter of getting used to that."
Miami, on the other hand, racked up 301 first-half yards and 17 first downs while also featuring its first-team offense throughout.
Miami's offense victimized Carolina's starting defense for five plays that covered more than 15 yards over its first two possessions and had another such play on its third drive overturned by a penalty. The Dolphins kept it up against Carolina's backup defense as well, recording four more plays of more than 15 yards before halftime.
"It's hard to say what happened before we watch the film," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "We've got to correct some things, correct them fast, and come back and play physical and tough."
The Dolphins started the scoring late in the first quarter, claiming a 7-0 lead on an 80-yard march that featured their most dynamic offensive players. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall caught a pair of passes that totaled 25 yards, and running back Reggie Bush – previously of the New Orleans Saints – rushed for 31 yards and had a 17-yard catch and run.
The Panthers defense nearly stopped the drive near the goal line, recovering a fumble that was wiped out by an illegal participation penalty and then stopping three rushes up the middle before Lex Hilliard plunged in on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Miami continued the first-half onslaught against Carolina's reserves, getting a 39-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter and a 4-yard touchdown run by Daniel Thomas in the second quarter to push the lead to 17-0.
"We all took our turn making mistakes tonight," Kalil said, "but that's what preseason is for."