Dolphins down Panthers 23-6

In a game that matched the ugly tropical weather, the Miami Dolphins found a way to overcome a sluggish first half performance and defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-6 Sunday afternoon before 72,597 soggy fans at Pro Player Stadium.<p>

The win kept Miami alone in first place atop the AFC East with a 5-2 record and sets up a big midseason showdown with the 4-3 Indianapolis Colts next Sunday at the RCA Dome.

Despite taking a 13-6 lead to the locker room at halftime, the Dolphins had been outgained by Carolina 213-159 and had just 42 yards rushing.

But the good news for Dolphins fans was that with no room to run, the Miami offense finally opened things up by not only going over the top but throwing deep as well. The Dolphins discovered there is actually something called a big play.

Three times, once in the first half and twice in the second, quarterback Jay Fiedler "aired it out" and three times, Dolphin receivers were on the other end. First was Chris Chambers for 28 yards midway through the second quarter, James McKnight for 40 in the third quarter and finally Oronde Gadsden for 61 yards in the fourth quarter.

After trading field goals in the first quarter, the Dolphins broke on top for good when Patrick Surtain picked off a Chris Weinke pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown with 11:52 left in the second quarter.

The Panthers responded with their most impressive drive of the day as they went 66 yards in eight plays but the drive stalled at the Miami two and John Kasay kicked a 20-yard field goal, his second of the day to cut the lead to 10-6.

A late Miami drive in the first half resulted in a 45-yard Olindo Mare field goal and a seven point Miami halftime lead.

The Panthers big moment came late in the third quarter when a Fiedler screen pass to Travis Minor was picked off by defensive lineman Jay Williams at the Dolphin 48. But three plays later, Carolina was faced with a fourth-and-two at the 40 when backup quarterback Dameyune Craig, in for an injured Chris Weinke, fired a pass in the flat for Mushin Muhammed who was nailed by Surtain breaking up the completion.

On the very next play, the Dolphins went deep when Fiedler rolled right and found McKnight who had run a stop-and-go and beaten cornerback Rashard Anderson deep for a 40-yard gain to the Panthers 20. Five plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Fiedler rolled right again and found fullback Rob Konrad for a five-yard touchdown to make it 20-6.

Nursing the 14-point lead, the Dolphins put the game away midway through the fourth quarter when Fiedler again went deep and this time found Gadsden for 61 yards down to the Panther 10.

Four plays later, Mare wrapped up the scoring with a 29-yard field goal with 6:05 to play.

"Just an outstading effort defensively today," said head coach Dave Wannstedt. "The guys did a heck of a job keeping them out of the end zone. We're playing well at home. Our last two home games were similar with our defense stepping up and making plays. Offensively we did struggle running the ball early. They were not going to let us run the ball actually the whole game, but again, I think that we have got to look at the positives. A year ago we probably wouldn't have been able to throw the way we did today. When you look at the numbers with our three wide receivers, that's encouraging, especially being able to do it in the conditions we did today. I know it didn't rain much but the wind was a big factor in two of the four quarters. Being able to deal with that and still throw that ball successfully, that was a real confidence builder from an offensive standpoint.

"I thought on offense, we played well," said Fiedler. "We took what the defense gave us. They were giving us the throws on the outside, and with the weather conditions I guess the first thing you want to try to do is stop the run and hope the wind plays a little bit more with the pass. The weather conditions weren't as bad as we thought they might be. We were able to pass the ball both ways, going with and against the wind, and do it pretty effectively.

"The receivers did a great job - those are our go-to guys. You know, in the passing game, they are the heart of the offense. My job is to find who's got that one-on-one matchup and get the ball to them and let them make the play and they were able to do that all day long."

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