CHARLOTTE – After a lackluster start to the preseason, the Carolina Panthers came out and delivered the response their head coach was looking for, defeating the Miami Dolphins 23-17 at Bank of America Stadium.
"Believe me, I was disappointed last week that we didn't win," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Very happy that we won this week. I want to believe this is something we can build on. We did some really good things."
Rivera's club put forth a dominant first quarter performance.
The first-team offense built a 17-0 first quarter lead, producing scores on all three of its possessions. The scoring outburst started with a 49-yard field goal from Justin Medlock and was followed by touchdowns from running backs Jonathan Stewart (2-yard run) and DeAngelo Williams (9-yard reception). Those touchdowns capped off drives of eight and six plays respectively.
"It was a big difference this week," said quarterback Cam Newton, who finished 8-of-11 for 119 yards and one touchdown. "Last week I felt kind of rushed. Today, I knew I had a lot more time to work, and when you know you are in there for longer than a couple series you let the game come to you. I think it showed tonight."
Carolina's first-team defense did its part as well, refusing to allow a first down until the final play of the opening quarter. They forced back-to-back three-and-outs to start the game, allowing Newton and the offense to control the tempo and seize early momentum.
Miami reached the end zone at the 9:36 mark of the second quarter, as running back Daniel Thomas capped a 15-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Later, Carolina kicker Olindo Mare converted a 44-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 20-7 halftime advantage.
A 52-yard field goal from Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter accounted for all the scoring in the third quarter and the Panthers answered that tally early in the fourth.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen led his first scoring drive of the preseason, moving the offense 55 yards in 13 plays before Medlock knocked in a 43-yard field goal.
But the Dolphins fought to make it interesting.
Wide receiver Rishard Wallace hauled in a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Pat Devlin with 3:17 remaining. The Panthers proceeded to go three-and-out on their next possession as the clock wound down to the two-minute warning.
Ten plays later, the Dolphins had the ball on Carolina's 4-yard line on second down with eight seconds to go.
Devlin attempted to find wide receiver Jeff Fuller in the right corner of the end zone, but Panthers cornerback R.J. Stanford stepped in front of the pass for the game-sealing interception.
"We all understood the situation. It was crunch time, and we all knew we had to step up and make a play, whether it be me or another guy," Stanford said. "We played so well; we couldn't give it up at the end.
"I saw the quarterback roll out, and I just locked in on my receiver and took advantage of the opportunity."
Rivera preferred a less dramatic ending to a game his team was in control of, but was proud to see his defense deliver in the clutch.
"The important thing is we finished," Rivera said. "We made a play at the end of the game to win it. Our defense stepped up."