Miami nearly came back to win the game with Pat Devlin at the helm in the fourth quarter, but a last-gasp drive ended with an interception in the end zone as the Dolphins fell to 0-2 this preseason.
Dolfans have not had much to cheer about thus far this preseason. Except, perhaps, for the ray of hope they have at quarterback.
1. Ryan Tannehill Took Another Step Toward Being Named the Starter
The line was not pretty for Tannehill—11-of-23 for 100 yards and a 60.0 passer rating—but four of those incompletions were tipped passes, and he was under duress for much of his time in the game. The offensive line did him no favors, but Tannehill recovered from two straight three-and-outs and a 14-0 deficit to lead his team on an impressive scoring drive that included some clutch third-down throws.
It was not a great outing by any means for Tannehill, but it was not a bad one. The rookie displayed some jitters in his first start—throwing with erratic accuracy and failing to avoid the rush at times—but he held his own under fire during the first half. He still tends to throw to his first read, which must be corrected lest defenses begin to cheat.
It helped that Matt Moore was not better.
More important to Tannehill's chances to begin the season as the starter was the fact that Moore did little to improve his standing. Where Tannehill shined with the second team in Miami's first preseason game, Moore did not do the same against Carolina's second unit.
Has Tannehill taken the starting reins?
To put things succinctly, Tannehill has led two touchdown drives to Moore's zero thus far in the preseason. It may not seem like much, but whoever starts the third game is more than likely the Week 1 starter, and time is running out for Moore.
2. The Offensive Line Needs Serious Work
The baptism by fire continues for Jonathan Martin, who followed up a poor outing against the Buccaneers with a nightmarish one against the Panthers. Charles Johnson abused the rookie on the right side of the line, disrupting play after play and quickly pressuring Tannehill on many dropbacks as a result.
Martin was not the only lineman who played poorly, as the entire line seemed to cave in against a superior defensive front. This is beginning to be an area of concern for Miami. At the very least they will have to start giving help on the right side.
3. The Secondary Was Improved from Last Week
After getting burned by the likes of Tiquan Underwood, the Dolphins' secondary looked better against the Panthers. Sean Smith picked off a Cam Newton pass beautifully only to have it called back because of a borderline pass interference call. Vontae Davis showed some fire covering Steve Smith, though he may have taken it too far in getting a personal foul called against him.
Even Chris Clemons got in on the fun, forcing a fumble on a nice hit on Mike Tolbert just a few plays after the running back had run Clemons over.
That is not to say they were particularly good, but it was an encouraging sign considering Miami generated no pass rush with Cameron Wake out and poor defensive line play in general. Not only did the front seven give Cam Newton enough time to eat a sandwich in the backfield on most plays, they let DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart run all over them.
Getting better on the defensive front is the next big improvement the defense must make.
4. Legedu Naanee Was Invisible, Jeff Fuller Was Not
For all the buzz created about Naanee in recent weeks, this marked the second preseason game in a row where he has been virtually nonexistent on the offense. To be fair, Tannehill did not seem to look his way much. There were a couple of plays where he got open, but it was a largely forgettable appearance by Naanee against his former team.
The dreaded wonder has registered one catch for 12 yards on two targets thus far this preseason. That he has started both games means his spot on the roster is safe, but the Dolphins have to hope Brian Hartline can get back to action soon.
Fuller, meanwhile, got on the field early and played much of the game, registering four catches for 38 yards including an important third-down catch to keep Tannehill's only scoring drive alive in the second quarter. He might be catching up to the pack and could perhaps be a threat to earn a roster spot as a result. It will be interesting to see how he is used this coming week.