It remains a long shot that the 2021 Miami Dolphins will be able to overcome their disastrous start to reach the postseason, but they sure look like a playoff team these days.
Behind a performance that featured big performances by the offense, defense and special teams, the Dolphins dominated the Carolina Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium to the tune of a 33-10 victory that moved their record to 5-7 after that forgettable 1-7 start.
The Dolphins reached the 30-point mark for the first time this season; the last time they had done it was in the 34-31 victory at Arizona last November.
Tua Tagovailoa became the first quarterback in Dolphins with consecutive games with a completion percentage of 80 percent or better when he finished 27-of-30 with a touchdown pass, a 9-yarder to Jaylen Waddle in the second quarter.
Waddle had the first 100-yard game of his impressive rookie season, reaching the mark in the first half. The sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft also had a career-long 57-yard reception in that first half.
Outside of a 64-yard completion that led to Carolina's only touchdown, the defense made life miserable for veteran quarterback Cam Newton, who found himself on the bench in the fourth quarter.
Before he left, Newton completed only 5 of 21 passes for 92 yards, though he did score a rushing touchdown.
The defense picked off Newton twice — by rookie Jevon Holland and by Xavien Howard — and did it again against P.J. Walker when Nik Needham intercepted a pass tipped by Andrew Van Ginkel after the quarterback rolled out to his left.
The defense also came up with five sacks, including 2.5 by rookie first-round pick Jaelan Phillips.
But it was the special teams that got things going for the Dolphins after their promising first offensive drive ended with a sack that knocked them out of field goal range.
After holding Carolina to a three-and-out on its first possession, Duke Riley blocked a Lachlan Edwards punt and Justin Coleman took the loose ball 2 yards for a quick 7-0 lead.
After Carolina tied the score on Newton's 1-yard run on third-and-goal, it was all Dolphins, except for a blip at the end of the first half.
By that time, the Dolphins led 21-7 after Tua's touchdown pass to Waddle and Myles Gaskin's first of two short TD runs out of the Wildcat formation.
The Dolphins seemed poised to add to their lead before halftime when they had a second-and-3 from the 27, but a shotgun snap bounced to Tua, who tried to pick up the loose ball instead of falling on it. That allowed Carolina linebacker Frankie Luvu to get the fumble and return it to the Miami 23 and when the officials put 1 second back on the clock, Zane Gonzalez kicked a 41-yard field goal to make it 21-10 at halftime.
Any thought that kind of momentum swing can turn the game ended when Carolina's first drive of the second half stalled — after the Panthers got a first down on a fake punt — and the Dolphins came back with a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
Jason Sanders, who missed an extra-point attempt after the fourth touchdown to end his streak of 69 consecutive successful PATs, kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter to complete Miami's scoring.
The Dolphins had good balance offensively, complementing Tua's 230 passing yards with 113 rushing yards.
Beyond the offense, this truly was a great example of complementary football by the Dolphins, who will face the New York Giants at Hard Rock Stadium next Sunday before they have their bye in Week 14.