MIAMI — Patrick Surtain delivered a chest-high hit at full speed that left intended receiver Richard Huntley dazed and made the crowd gasp.
On the next play, Lorenzo Bromell leveled a scrambling Dameyune Craig, whose dislodged helmet went skipping across the turf.
And those weren't even the most taxing blows delivered Sunday by the Miami Dolphins. Their bruising defense scored a touchdown, sent quarterbacks Craig and Chris Weinke to the bench with injuries and handed the struggling Carolina Panthers a particularly painful defeat, 23-6.
Weinke, Carolina's 29-year-old rookie, left in the third quarter with a sprained right shoulder, and two replacements threw their first NFL passes. Fourth-year pro Craig went four for eight for 34 yards before spraining his right foot, and Matt Lytle mopped up in the final six minutes.
"You've got to smack somebody in the mouth every once in awhile," said Surtain, who gave Miami the lead for good with a 29-yard interception return.
The Dolphins (5-2) retained their AFC East lead, while the Panthers lost their seventh in a row and fell to 1-7.
With the region under a tropical storm warning as Hurricane Michelle churned just south of Florida, the stadium was almost half empty despite an announced sellout of 72,597. But conditions could have been worse--occasional light rain fell and winds gusted to 25 mph.
Miami's ground game was stymied for the third consecutive game, but Jay Fiedler overcame the weather to enjoy his best day of the season. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 287 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. His three wide receivers made 13 receptions for 223 yards.
"A year ago we probably wouldn't have been able to do that," Coach Dave Wannstedt said. "In the conditions we had today, that's encouraging."