Nov 24, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scrambles with the ball against the Miami Dolphins in the first half of a game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers Escape the Florida Heat and the Miami Dolphins, 20-16

Chalk this one up to a win is a win is a win, but in the first half, a win didn’t look like it was in the cards if you’re a Carolina Panthers fan.

Carolina was down 16-6 at halftime but shut out the talented but hapless Dolphins in the second half.

The first half saw a surprisingly pass-heavy offensive game plan being executed by the Carolina Panthers with Cam throwing it 19 times vs. only 10 running plays. With that sort of lopsided play-calling, I really wasn’t too surprised with the Panthers’ struggles at intermission.

What did surprise me was that the defense allowed well-known speedster Mike Wallace of Miami to get behind them twice, one of which resulted in a 53-yard TD reception. Wallace ended up the day with 5 catches for 127 yards.

Other than a cardiac arrest-inducing dropped pass at the Carolina goal line with little time left on the clock, Wallace was a non-factor in the second half.

The Dolphins outgained the Panthers 332-295, but several key plays in the second half by none other than Cam Newton himself made the difference. He was there to pull off several pressure-packed plays to keep the Panthers’ hopes of winning alive.

On 4th and 10 at their own 20 yard line with less than three minutes remaining, Cam fired a dart and hit Steve Smith for a first down. He had several runs culminating in first downs, including on a 4th-and-one, in the second half. He ran only once in the first half, when the offense wasn’t going well.

Ted Ginn, Jr. reminded us all why he wasn’t worth the 9th overall pick in the draft eight years ago with a dropped pass on perfectly-thrown long ball by Cam. The football had “SIX” written all over it, but Ted’s hands were no match for the force of the football gently falling a foot in front of him.

Nov 18, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) runs after catching a pass during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Patriots 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

That was a maddeningly botched attempt at a reception in a game filled with head-scratching plays not going the Panthers’ way and had a lot of fans getting that queasy-uneasy feeling that they were about to drop an entire game that they should have easily won, but that’s why the games are played.

Newton wound up completing exactly half his pass attempts, going 19-for-38 for 174 with a TD and INT each. The TD pass came on a play-action fake with less than a minute to go on first-and-goal from the 6-inch line after Mike Tolbert scampered nearly 15 yards the previous play.

Greg Olson caught the toss as the entire Miami defense was thinking “run” and the Panthers had no receivers on the field.

The close, hard-fought victory against a determined Miami squad takes Carolina to 8-3 on the season and within a game of the New Orleans Saints, who play later at Seattle. A Saints’ loss would leave the two teams in a tie for the division lead with two of the next three games being played against each other.

The loss pushes Miami, now 5-6, to the fringes of the AFC Wild Card spot. Since Kansas City and Denver are both in the same division, the Chiefs look to be a virtual lock on the #5 seed with only two losses and leaves a lot of teams to fight for the remaining AFC Wild Card seed.

The Carolina Panthers are well in control of their playoff destiny with their remaining NFC South games, but remain a game behind the Saints…for the moment.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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