Panthers 20, Dolphins 16: Takeaways & observations

Charlie McCarthy offers up his key takeaways from the Dolphins loss to the Panthers.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- In a conference where the final playoff spot appears destined for a team with a mediocre record, the Miami Dolphins remain alive.

But Miami once again will have to show great resiliency in the wake of Sunday's 20-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Sun Life Stadium.

Miami (5-6) went ahead 7-3 with 5:39 left in the first quarter and led until Cam Newton hit Greg Olsen with the game-winning 1-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds remaining.

The Dolphins' remaining games include two against the New York Jets, New England at home and road games at Pittsburgh and at Buffalo. Assuming 9-7 would be playoff worthy, can they win four times?

Here are a few takeaways from Miami's latest loss.

1. Ryan Tannehill connected with Mike Wallace for big plays.

During the week, Tannehill took responsibility for Wallace's failure to produce the way that had been expected when the receiver signed as a free agent. The quarterback hooked up with the former Pittsburgh Steelers star early on Sunday, when Wallace had 110 yards on two catches in the first half.

Tannehill rolled right to find Wallace on a 53-yard touchdown pass play in the first quarter, then found him again on a 57-yard pass play in the second. Of course, that one might have been another score if the ball was thrown with less air under it.

Early in the third quarter, Wallace had the secondary beaten deep but Tannehill overthrew him on second-and-19 from Miami's 23.

They almost connected on a bomb for a game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds to go, but the ball evaded Wallace's hands.

Wallace finished with five catches for 127 yards.

2. The Dolphins defense came up short at key times.

The front line pressured Newton from the start and the defense showed a lot of good things, such as holding Carolina to 136 yards rushing and sacking Newton twice for 15 yards. But ...

An all-round superb first 14:52 minutes was followed with eight seconds in which Miami's defense allowed Carolina a 29-yard pass play and a field goal on the final play. The kick proved to be oh so costly.

Then on Carolina's final drive, the Panthers converted a fourth-and-10 from their own 20 and proceeded to go down the field for the game-winning score.

3. The Dolphins still can't run the ball.

We know the offensive line was missing three starters -- center Mike Pouncey, guard Richie Incognito, tackle Johnathan Martin -- but the offense still should be able to run the ball some.

Miami ran 17 times for 52 yards -- a 3.1-yard average.

4. Miami's offense continues to struggle on third down.

Miami converted 1 of 8 third downs in the first half and finished 4 of 16.

Of course, inability to run the ball plays into this, too. It results in many third-and-long plays, and teams know you're throwing on third down when they also are aware you can't rush it.

5. Cornerback Nolan Carroll played well filling in for Dimitri Patterson.

With Patterson inactive, Carroll got the start. He had three tackles and defended 4 passes.

Carroll's first-half pick set up a late Caleb Sturgis field goal.

He also got lucky when Ted Ginn Jr. beat him but couldn't grab what would have been a 73-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.

Charlie McCarthy can be reached at or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas.

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