With the game on the line, the Miami Dolphins finally found a way to stop the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, forcing Jake Delhomme to throw to somebody else: a defensive back.
Safety Lance Schulters intercepted Delhomme with two minutes left to set up Olindo Mare's game-winning field goal, and Miami won, 27-24, yesterday.
Rookie Ronnie Brown rushed for 132 yards for Miami, while Carolina lost despite Smith's 11 catches for 170 yards and three scores, including a 53-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to tie the game at 24.
The Panthers were driving for a potential winning score on their next possession when Schulters stepped in front of a pass intended for Keary Colbert and returned the interception 37 yards to the 25. Five plays, later, Mare kicked a 32-yard field goal with four seconds left.
"It doesn't get any lower than this," Delhomme said. "There was no doubt we were going to kick the field goal and win the game. You don't want to have to look your other players in the eyes, because you let them down."
Miami improved to 2-1 under new coach Nick Saban. Heading into a bye week, the Dolphins are halfway to last year's win total.
"We're not the worst team in the league like some people make us out to be," Schulters said. "We believe in ourselves and our abilities, and we like to stick it to people who don't believe in us."
The Panthers, who lost seven of their first eight last season, are off to another slow start at 1-2.
"Back to the drawing board," Panthers coach John Fox said. "We're very disappointed."
Brown scored his first NFL touchdown on a 1-yard run, and his 58-yard dash set up a field goal. Playing much of the second half with a tight hamstring, he still finished with 23 carries and became the first Miami rookie in six years to rush for 100 yards.
Teammate Gus Frerotte threw touchdown passes of 18 yards to Randy McMichael and 42 yards to Chris Chambers.
Carolina 3 14 0 7 - 24
Miami 14 7 0 6 - 27
First quarter Mia-Brown 1 run (Mare kick), 10:09. Car-FG Kasay 52, 7:11. Mia-McMichael 18 pass from Frerotte (Mare kick), 0:10.
Second quarter Car-S.Smith 1 pass from Delhomme (Kasay kick), 5:44. Mia-Chambers 42 pass from Frerotte (Mare kick), 3:39. Car-S.Smith 3 pass from Delhomme (Kasay kick), 0:54.
Fourth quarter Mia-FG Mare 27, 7:32. Car-S.Smith 53 pass from Delhomme (Kasay kick), 7:12. Mia-FG Mare 32, 0:04. A-72,288.
First downs 23 16
Total Net Yards 299 315
Rushes-yards 26-61 30-144
Passing 238 171
Punt Returns 3-17 1-4
Kickoff Returns 4-85 4-80
Interceptions Ret. 1-0 1-37
Comp-Att-Int 19-35-1 14-33-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 4-47 0-0
Punts 5-45.4 6-44.7
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-39 13-138
Time of Possession 32:13 27:47
Rushing-Carolina, Davis 16-36, Foster 8-27, S.Smith 2-(minus 2). Miami, Brown 23-132, Morris 5-10, Welker 1-5, Frerotte 1-(minus 3).
Passing-Carolina, Delhomme 19-35-1-285. Miami, Frerotte 14-33-1-171.
Receiving-Carolina, S.Smith 11-170, Foster 3-48, Mangum 2-32, Davis 2-16, Proehl 1-19. Miami, Chambers 6-93, Brown 3-15, Booker 2-15, McMichael 1-18, Morris 1-18, Gilmore 1-12. Missed field goals-None.