The Miami Dolphins forced a punt with 54 seconds remaining in the first half. Trailing 10-7 at the time, Adam Gase's team had the chance to at least go into halftime in a one-score game.
Instead, Jay Cutler tossed a disastrous interception on the first play, and Carolina scored a touchdown. The Panthers would score a TD on every second-half drive until kneeling out the game with a 45-21 blowout win.
Despite a third-straight primetime loss, and fourth embarrassing loss of the season, to drop to 4-5, the Dolphins are confident they can turn the season around.
"Adam said it really well in the locker room, that's three weeks out of 16," quarterback Jay Cutler said, via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. "There's a lot of football left. The pieces are in that locker room. I truly believe that. I have been around a lot of good teams, there [are] a lot of good guys in there, a lot of talent. And there's really good coaches. So we just have to get back to work. That's the only thing we can do. We can't fold up shop because there's a lot of football left to play and anything can happen."
Despite allowing 548 total yards, including 294 rushing yards, despite missing innumerable tackles, and despite leaving receivers uncovered all over the field, the Dolphins defense believes its problems are fixable.
"There is no way we should give up 350 yards with he players we have, let (alone) 550," defensive end Andre Branch said. "We just have to go back to work, and it will be fixed for sure.
"Like I said, we will get it fixed. It was just another frustrating night. The coaches will figure out how to get it fixed and us players will have to execute. We just need to fix the things that need to be fixed."
Despite owning the worst scoring offense in the NFL (dead last in PPG at 15.2), the least explosive offense in the NFL (dead last in big plays with 35), and an operation that ranks in the bottom three in almost every relevant statistic and metric, Miami is keeping its head held high.
"We're good," offensive lineman Mike Pouncey said. "You've just got to regroup. We still control our own destiny. It's just we've got to win these kinds of football games. It's the second half of the season and we can't lose these kind of games. We just put ourselves in a deeper hole, but we're going to keep working hard and we're going to get us a win next week."
It's difficult to bash NFL players for taking the optimistic path. After all, they must put their bodies on the line seven more times this season. No team has a chance if they've already tossed in the towel mentally. Plus, it's not like the fire-and-brimstone approach from Gase has worked this season.
While Dolphins players opt for optimism, the rest of us live in a reality where Miami's best players were taken under the bright primetime lights and found wanting.
A big-name defensive line got pushed around -- even when a third-string center entered the game Monday night! -- a supposedly game-changing safety duo was absent, a $10 million quarterback looked like vintage Blaine Gabbert, and no big-play receiver popped loose.
Mediocrity loves company, and in a weak AFC, the Dolphins aren't out of the race, even if it feels like it to everyone who watched them the past three weeks.