CHARLOTTE — On a record-setting night for the Carolina Panthers’ offense, the result might have hinged on a defensive play in the first half.
After Miami scored to cut the Panthers lead to 10-7, the Panthers punted the ball away with 47 seconds remaining in the first half.
Despite being dominated on the stat sheet, Miami had the chance to take a knee and call the first half a moral victory. Instead, quarterback Jay Cutler decided to go for the lead.
“We felt good,” Cutler said. “We made a good call there.”
Cutler fired the ball up the sideline, where it was picked off by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who made a juggling interception at the Miami 35.
“I turned around, and the ball was in the air,” Kuechly said. “I was trying not to drop it.”
Quarterback Cam Newton gave Kuechly a little more credit for the play.
“I’m pretty sure Luke knew it was coming, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be there,” Newton said. “That’s just Captain America.”
Kuechly held on to the ball, and four plays later, Newton hit tight end Ed Dickson for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 10-point lead heading into the break.
Carolina got the ball to start the second half, and Newton found Devin Funchess for a 28-yard score, and the rout was on.
“It was big,” Newton said. “Our keys to win, we say every week, is to get those sneaky points. That was a 14-point leap.”
When the dust cleared, the Panthers had set a team Monday Night Football record with 45 points, pounding the Dolphins, 45-21. Carolina’s 548 yards set a franchise record. The team also rushed for more than 200 yards for the second straight week, the first time the Panthers have done that back-to-back.
“We just wanted to come out & impose our will,” Newton said.
Newton passed for four touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in Monday Night history to throw at least two touchdowns in each of his first six appearances. He also unleashed a 69-yard run, the second longest of his career, to set up a score in the second half.
Afterward, he did a celebration dance while laying prone on the ground.
“When you ain’t got no gas left, and the check-engine light is on, you’ve just got to celebrate when you can celebrate, brother,” he explained.
Jonathan Stewart bounced back from two fumbles in last week’s game to rush for 110 yards in the game. Center Matt Kalil said Stewart was running “with a chip on his shoulder” after last week’s performance.
“I was definitely hard on myself,” Stewart said. “It stung me. You feel like you let your team down. I just couldn’t’ wait to get back on the field and help my team out.”
“Guys were sensing that he was down and low,” Newton said. “For him to come out and have 110 yards, that was big for him to get back confidence in himself, and it was good for everybody else, who never doubted his talents.”
The Panthers head into the bye week with a 7-3 record. While the team could use the week off, the offense was a little disappointed it comes just as it is finding its momentum.
“We’ve got a good thing going right now, and we have to hone in on what we did well,” Kalil said.