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Fish Find The Run, Top Panthers


The results suggest the Miami Dolphins are on the right track by trying to develop a stronger rushing game.

On the day they had their best rushing output of the season, the Dolphins took sole possession of first place in the AFC East.

Karim Abdul-Jabbar rushed for 127 yards, the best outing by a Miami player since 1996, and the Dolphins ended a three-game road losing skid with a 13-9 victory over Carolina on Sunday.

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"Everybody likes to watch you throw the ball, but it's hard to argue with the effectiveness of running it," Miami guard Mark Dixon said after the Dolphins improved to 6-1 when they get at least 100 yards rushing. "It opens up the whole game for you when you can do the job on the ground."

The Dolphins (7-3) finished with season highs of 40 carries and 184 yards rushing.

"Days like this are an offensive lineman's dream," Dixon said. "It gets everybody's confidence up."

Miami blew fourth-quarter leads in each of its previous two road games, but had no such problems against the Panthers (1-9).

"They basically tell you what they're doing, and it's up to you to do whatever it takes to stop it," Carolina defensive end Sean Gilbert said. "They basically just stood up and punched us right in the face."

Carolina, losing for the seventh time in eight home games dating back to last season, was held to three field goals by John Kasay.

Quarterback Steve Beuerlein, given a three-year contract extension by the Panthers earlier in the week, was intercepted twice by reserve safety Brian Walker.

"You wonder when you're going to turn the corner, Panthers cornerback Eric Davis said. "You wonder when you're going to do everything that you have to do to consistently get over that hump and make it a distant memory. We haven't done that yet."

Rookie John Avery added 53 yards rushing on 12 carries for the Dolphins, whose victory combined with the New York Jets' loss gave Miami a one-game lead atop the AFC East.

"They were giving us some problems with their pass rush," Miami coach Jimmy Johnson said of the Panthers. "So rather than taking the negative plays, we stayed with the running game."

The Panthers came in with the NFL's lowest-rated passing defense, but showed they are also vulnerable to giving up big chunks of yardage on the ground. The Dolphins had five rushing plays of at least 10 yards, including bursts by Abdul-Jabbar of 30, 23 and 22 yards.

Miami's biggest individual rushing game this year had been a 108-yard outing by Abdul-Jabbar in the season opener. By halftime Sunday, he already had 114 yards on 14 carries, and the Dolphins had a 10-6 lead.

By the time it was over, Abdul-Jabbar had the second-best performance of his three-year career, behind only a 152-yard outing against the Jets as a rookie in 1996.

"A few times we were just pushing them off the ball, and another few times I used cutbacks here and there," Abdul-Jabbar said. "We had some good blocking."

Abdul-Jabbar set the tone on the game's opening possession with an 11-play, 92-yard march that was powered by seven rushes for 69 yards. Abdul-Jabbar carried five times for 55 yards, finishing off the drive with a 1-yard scoring burst to give the Dolphins a lead they never relinquished.

The Panthers answered with two field goals, the second set up when Dan Marino threw a pass that Avery couldn't handle. The ball caromed into the hands of Carolina's Kevin Greene, who returned it 15 yards to the Miami 15.

But as was the case most of the afternoon, the Panthers couldn't capitalize on good field position, and they had to settle for a 27-yard field goal.

Carolina got no closer. Miami's Olindo Mare kicked a 22-yard field goal on the final play of the first half and added another 22-yarder early in the fourth.

The Panthers never got in scoring position again after Kasay's final field goal, a 43-yarder with 8:45 remaining.

Notes

  • The Dolphins' opening drive was their longest of the season.
  • Carolina's Michael Bates , a Pro Bowl kick returner after each of the last two seasons, left in the first quarter with a strained left hamstring. He did not return. Miami safety Brock Marion left in the second quarter with a right knee contusion. He returned in the third.
  • Panthers halfback Tshimanga Biakabutuka , a 1996 first-round draft pick who hadn't carried the ball yet this year, shared time at halfback with Fred Lane on Sunday. Biakabutuka rushed eight times for 38 yards. Lane had 15 yards on six carries.
  • The Dolphins improved to 6-0 when leding at halftime, while the Panthers fell to 0-7 when trailing after three quarters.

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