But under a full moon in the fourth quarter, Miami came up with several big plays to earn a 20-16 victory just six days after losing at previously winless Tampa Bay.
It was a much-needed display of resiliency by the Dolphins, who had dropped five of their previous six games and have been engulfed with a national harassment/bullying scandal.
Miami won its second straight home game, having beaten Cincinnati in overtime on Oct. 31.
Carolina will visit Miami next week, after the Panthers (6-3) play host to New England on Monday night.
Here are a few takeaways from the Dolphins' win.
1. Miami's decimated offensive line survived.
Already minus tackle Jonathan Martin and guard
Richie Incognito due to the harassment scandal, the line lost backup tackle
Will Yeatman (knee) on Thursday and starting center
Mike Pouncey (illness) on gameday.
The losses meant
Nate Garner moved to center and undrafted rookie
Sam Brenner took Garner's spot at left guard.
Miami ran for 104 yards on 19 carries (5.5 yards per carry) and compiled 239 yards of total offense. Not overwhelming, but it did the job.
2. Miami came up big in the fourth quarter.
Cameron Wake tackled San Diego running back Ryan Mathews for a 5-yard loss with San Diego facing second-and-6 on its own 21. That helped force a punt.
On the game's final drive, Wake sacked Rivers on second-and-2 to make it third-and-7 with 49 seconds remaining from the Chargers' 37.
3. Another mixed-bag for the Miami's rushing defense.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has said in recent weeks the Dolphins' rush defense has been OK, it just has been susceptible to a long run every week. He'll likely say that again, as San Diego's 154 rushing yards included a 51-yard run by Mathews.
Seven opponents have rushed for 130 or more yards this season.
4. Tannehill survived a rocky start.
Playing behind the banged-up line, Tannehill completed 22 of 35 for 268 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
His pick in the first quarter directly led to
Antonio Gates' 5-yard scoring reception from Philip Rivers.
Overall, he did a decent job.
5. Miami was helped by Chargers penalties and missed tackles.
The Dolphins benefitted greatly from a costly roughing the passer penalty -- that negated a Hartline fumble at the San Diego 1 -- and an illegal forward pass flag that helped force the Chargers to settle for a field goal late in the in first half.
San Diego showed an inability to tackle on several plays, none bigger than
Charles Clay's 39-yard touchdown reception midway through the third quarter.