MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins’ defense Sunday played as if it was 2020 all over again. The same was true for Cam Newton. Only one of those two sentences is a compliment.
Newton had arguably the worst game of his long and largely successful career in Sunday’s 33-10 Dolphins win over the Carolina Panthers, a brutal outing cut mercifully short when Matt Rhule benched him for P.J. Walker early in the fourth quarter.
Cam Newton: ‘I have to be better’
By then, the damage had been done. Newton completed just 5 passes — the fewest in a game in which he started — and threw 2 interceptions in 21 attempts. The Panthers scored a touchdown on their second drive but managed just four first downs in Newton’s nine other possessions. His passer rating — 5.8 — was easily the lowest of his career.
Rhule told reporters after the game that Newton will start for the Panthers when they return from their Week 13 bye, and Cam’s limited familiarity with the Panthers’ two-minute offense was a contributing factor to their decision to bench him.
Newton signed with Carolina less than three weeks ago, and he acknowledged after the game that he still had some gaps in system fluency.
“Just because Cam Newton’s on your roster doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” said Newton, who has lost both of his starts in 2021. “Just because it’s a feel-good story doesn’t mean you’re going to win. We all have to come to grips with who we are. I’m putting blame on myself first before I look at anyone else. I have to be better.”
Miami Dolphins own the Panthers in the trenches
The Dolphins so thoroughly manhandled the Panthers’ offensive line, it’s hard to point to just one reason why. But Carolina’s inability to run the ball is as good of a place to start as any. Christian McCaffrey had 35 yards on 10 carries, but none after halftime. McCaffrey rolled his ankle in the first half. After trying to play through it, Run CMC was pulled for good.
Rhule didn’t have an update on the star running back’s status going forward, but he reportedly left Hard Rock Stadium in a walking boot. So the bye couldn’t come at a better time for Carolina.
Miami’s pass rush takes center stage
The Panthers collectively averaged 3.6 yards per carry, leading to a bunch of third-and-longs. That allowed the Dolphins’ pass rushers to really get after the Panthers’ quarterbacks.
Newton and Walker were sacked a combined 5 times and hit 11. And even when the pressure didn’t get home, it did enough to force Newton into poor throws.
He threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions, both on passes that were either late or behind his receiver (or both). That imprecision allowed first Jevon Holland and then Xavien Howard to undercut the route and pick Newton off.
“I put the ball in jeopardy too many times today,” Newton said.
That’s part of the reason the Patriots cut him before the season. He was inefficient as their starter in 2020, and then Newton got beat out by rookie Mac Jones during training camp.
Sam Darnold’s injury created an opportunity for Newton to return to the Panthers. But too many more performances like the one he had Sunday will ensure the reunion will last just two months.
Dolphins’ ‘dominant’ defense
As for the Dolphins, they’re back playing the bullyball that powered their 10-win 2020 season. They’ve allowed just 46 points during their four-game winning streak and held the Panthers to only 198 yards and 3.7 yards per play Sunday.
“Dominant,” was how Dolphins defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah classified it.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores said the players deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the turnaround.
Added linebacker Duke Riley, whose blocked punt resulted in the Dolphins’ first of four touchdowns: “We’re just coming together. I said before. It didn’t look too good for us in the beginning [of the season]. Everyone was saying we were everywhere, but we deserve it. We work so hard. We work together. … This team is closer than any team I’ve been on.
“We hold each other accountable every day.”