CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Miami Dolphins made one thing very clear Monday night: They are not ready for prime time.
The Dolphins continue to shrink this season when the NFL's spotlight is at its brightest. They fell to 0-3 in prime-time games with a 45-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football. It was the most points and rushing yards (294) the Dolphins have allowed in a game this season.
Miami (4-5) just completed the league's trifecta of national games in ugly fashion.
In the past three weeks, the Dolphins lost to the Baltimore Ravens (40-0) on "Thursday Night Football," the Oakland Raiders (27-24) on "Sunday Night Football" and to the Panthers on Monday by 24 points. Miami did not do anything to help its national perception with the trio of shoddy performances. With each loss, the Dolphins' margin for error to make the playoffs for the second straight year gets thinner and thinner.
Cutler has been traditionally good on Monday Night Football. He entered this game with eight touchdowns and one interception on the league's biggest stage. However, that momentum didn't carry over, as Cutler had a vintage "Jay Cutler moment" with an overaggressive and unnecessary interception to Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly with 41 seconds left in the first half that took all the energy out of the Dolphins.
Cutler's ill-timed pick set up a Cam Newton touchdown pass that gave the Panthers a 17-7 lead at halftime. Miami was never able to make the game competitive after that point.
“We got the coverage we wanted,” Cutler said about the interception. “They just pushed a little bit, and I have to lay it out there a little more. It was a bad ball by me, and it put us in a bad spot.”
Newton had his way with the Dolphins through the air and on the ground. He threw four touchdown passes and had a season-high 69-yard run in the third quarter. Newton danced and smiled at Miami's struggling defense after every big play. The Dolphins had no answers for the former MVP.
Miami has been very streaky this season. The team has lost three in a row after winning the prior three games. Now the Dolphins' playoff hopes aren't looking strong in a weakened AFC.
Miami must play five of its last seven games against teams with winning records. That includes a road game against the Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) and four combined games against the Buffalo Bills (5-4) and the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (7-2).
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their second game against New England is another prime-time contest on a Monday night, on Dec. 11. It's difficult to expect a good result based on Miami's previous three performances in night games.
"There is a lot of football left," Cutler said. "The pieces are in the locker room, I truly believe that. I have been around a lot of good teams, there is a lot of good guys and a lot of good talent in there. We just have to get back to work."