Panthers vs. Dolphins: Five plays that mattered

jperson@charlotteobserver.comNovember 24, 2013 

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) makes a reception on fourth down late in the game as Miami Dolphins defenders Brent Grimes (21) and Chris Clemons (30) converge on him at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday. The catch kept the winning touchdown drive alive.

DAVID T. FOSTER III — dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com Buy Photo

1. Gano’s blocked kick

The score: Scoreless, 10:52 left in first quarter.

The situation: Panthers’ ball, fourth-and-17 at the Dolphins’ 17.

The play: Graham Gano’s 35-yard field goal attempt came off his foot low and hit offensive lineman Travelle Wharton in the helmet. The ball caromed out of bounds at the Miami 31.

Why it mattered: The Panthers missed a chance to grab an early lead and momentum by failing to capitalize on Josh Thomas’ interception on the Dolphins’ first series. The Panthers began the drive at the Dolphins’ 43 but came away with no points.

2. LaFell’s long catch-and-run

The score: Dolphins 16, Panthers 3, eight seconds left in second quarter.

The situation: Panthers’ ball, first-and-15 at the Carolina 43.

The play: With the Dolphins in a prevent defense, quarterback Cam Newton took a low shotgun snap and threw short to Brandon LaFell along the right sideline. LaFell ran for a 29-yard gain before stepping out of bounds at the Dolphins’ 28 with 1 second left.

Why it mattered: The play set up Gano for a 46-yard field goal, which he made as time expired to bring the Panthers within 10 points at the half.

3. Riverboat Ron strikes again

The score: Dolphins 16, Panthers 6, 12:09 left in third quarter.

The situation: Panthers’ ball, fourth-and-1 at the Carolina 41.

The play: Ron Rivera went against conventional strategy by going for a fourth down early in the second half in his own territory. It worked when Newton found a big hole behind the left side of the line for an 8-yard gain on a quarterback counter.

Why it mattered: The conversion kept alive the Panthers’ opening drive of the second half. Carolina ended up going 83 yards in 14 plays, taking nearly seven minutes off the clock, before Newton scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to make it a three-point game.

4. Olsen’s holding penalty

The score: Dolphins 16, Panthers 13, 6:32 left in fourth quarter.

The situation: Panthers’ ball, third-and-12 at the Carolina 41.

The play: Newton beat blindside pressure and threw a strike to LaFell on a crossing route. LaFell dived past the first-down marker, but a holding call against tight end Greg Olsen negated the conversion.

Why it mattered: Instead of a first down in Dolphins’ territory, the Panthers faced a third-and-22 from their 31. After a Newton incompletion, the Panthers were forced to punt.

5. Smith’s fourth-down conversion

The score: Dolphins 16, Panthers 13, 2:33 left in fourth quarter.

The situation: Panthers ball, fourth-and-10 at the Carolina 20.

The play: With a defensive lineman bearing down on him from the blind side, Newton fired a dart between two defenders to Steve Smith, who bounced off them for a 19-yard gain to the Panthers’ 39.

Why it mattered: The conversion kept the Panthers’ game-winning drive alive. Had Carolina not converted, the Dolphins would have had a short field with a little more than two minutes remaining.

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