- A healthy Luke Kuechly and a Cam Newton performance reminiscent of his 2015 MVP campaign were too much handle for the Dolphins.
Three thoughts off the Carolina Panthers’ 45-21 shellacking of the Miami Dolphins on Monday night.
1. The NFL—but most importantly, Carolina—is much better when Luke Kuechly is on the field. He’s the best middle linebacker in football (Bobby Wagner is second) and has been since his second year in the league. With 47 seconds left in the first half, Jay Cutler looked deep to the sideline for Julius Thomas as the Dolphins attempted to get into field-goal range and tie the game at 10 before half. Kuechly, having clearly seen this route combination on film, rode Thomas to the sideline and then jumped the route to pick off Cutler. Kuechly has had at least three concussions over the past three seasons and the Panthers are demonstrably better with him than without—proven by a 22-9 record when Kuechly has played versus 5-5 otherwise. The interception was Kuechly’s 15th of his career, which is far and away more than any other linebacker in the league since 2012. And on a third-quarter series, he made stops on second and third down, and then penetrated the backfield to help the Panthers’ defense turn the Dolphins over on downs near midfield.
2. So after two games, I can confidently say that Jay Ajayi wasn’t the main reason the offense was struggling. Since that Thursday night embarrassment against Baltimore, the Dolphins are 0-2 with games of 86 and 100 rushing yards. Perhaps Ajayi was a malcontent and maybe the team did need a public kick in the rear to let them know who was running the show. But if that someone is Adam Gase, he hasn’t done a good job at figuring out the rushing life after Ajayi. By the time it was 24-7, the Dolphins had 22 rushing yards on 11 carries by starter Damien Williams, backup Kenyan Drake and one rush by Cutler. Monday night marked the sixth time in nine games the Dolphins have failed to rush for more than 100 yards, getting a win in just one of those contests. No team should respect the Dolphins’ running game, which will only make things harder on a quarterback that won’t win with his arm alone.
3. Monday night was the best Cam Newton has looked on the field since his 2015 MVP season. His entire arsenal was on display. He made throws in tight and wide windows, he improvised well, he rushed when necessary and dominated on third downs (10-for-13). Newton finished the game completing 21-of-35 throws for 254 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. His previous best game this season came in New England when he willed the Panthers to a 33-30 win in Foxborough, but this—even against a hapless Miami defense—was even better. His lone mistake was an early cross-body throw that was nearly picked off until replay overturned the call on the field. His best play was also his most exciting one. In the third quarter, Newton took off for a 69-yard rush where he clocked a top speed of 20.09 MPH, according to NFL.com’s Matt Harmon, which is the fastest of any quarterback this season. The Panthers would score a touchdown on that drive, their fourth consecutive possession that ended in the end zone. Newton and his backup quarterbacks usually do a running Eurostep that flows into a floater as a sideline celebration, but when he made it over there this time he was too exhausted to offer much more than a spot-up jumper with no lift.