Williams rushed for 119 yards and scored three touchdowns, and the Dolphins beat the Carolina Panthers 24-17 on Thursday night for their fourth win in six games.
A day after learning Brown is lost for the season, the Dolphins (5-5) continued their surge after an 0-3 start behind Williams. The 2002 NFL rushing champion had a receiving and rushing touchdown in the same game for the first time in his career that included a couple of lost seasons.
It was enough to beat the Panthers (4-6) when Jake Delhomme‘s desperation pass into the end zone was knocked down as time expired.
DeAngelo Williams rushed for 122 yards, but Delhomme had his streak of three games without an interception snapped, then couldn’t lead a late comeback bid.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano hinted his team might abandon the Wildcat without Brown, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday because of a foot injury. And Miami didn’t use the formation until the second quarter. It coincided with the Dolphins’ first touchdown drive — Chad Henne‘s 14-yard touchdown pass to Williams, who wrestled away from linebacker Na’il Diggs.
Miami took a 14-3 halftime lead when Williams took the direct snap at the 1 and got to the end zone ahead of speedy linebacker Jon Beason.
The Panthers got within 17-14 on Steve Smith‘s leaping 27-yard touchdown catch and DeAngelo Williams’ 2-point conversion run with 5:18 left. But Ricky Williams bounced to the outside and shook off Sherrod Martin at the Carolina 5 on a 46-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession.
Williams also caught two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown. Henne overcame losing his center and his backup and committed no turnovers.
Early on, Carolina’s offense stalled under the weight of its makeshift offensive line — and the return of Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter from exile.
Benched from Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay, Porter served as a captain for the coin toss, then sacked Delhomme on third down on Carolina’s opening drive, leading to John Kasay‘s 29-yard field goal.
The Panthers mixed in some of the no-huddle offense on the drive after its effective debut Sunday against Atlanta. But they used it sparingly after that, and the offense got bogged down without Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross.
Porter had two of Delhomme’s three first-half sacks, beating Gross’ replacement Travelle Wharton.
Dolphins center Jake Grove left in the third quarter with an ankle injury and was replaced by Joe Berger. Nate Garner moved to center when Berger went down early in the fourth quarter. Henne bobbled Garner’s second snap, but he recovered.
Berger returned on the next series and was injured again, but Henne made it look seamless. He completed 17 of 29 passes for 172 yards.
On a night of few spectacular offensive plays, DeAngelo Williams’ 50-yard run early in the third quarter seemed to give Carolina life. But the drive ended when Nathan Jones picked off Delhomme’s pass intended for Smith at the Miami 4.
Smith caught seven passes for 87 yards despite getting into a minor car accident on the way to the game.
Delhomme, who had thrown 13 interceptions in his first six games, had gone turnover-free this month. But he was just 19 of 42 for 247 yards, and Carolina fell to 0-4 against the Dolphins.
It was a crushing loss for the Panthers, who had also begun eyeing the playoffs after an 0-3 start. Sunday’s win over Atlanta gave them confidence, but their old offensive coordinator had other ideas.
Dan Henning, fired by Carolina after the 2006 season, found a way to score just enough without Brown.
Williams, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner, continued his resurgence after a career that included a brief retirement and a drug-related suspension. The time off might be helping him now when many running backs decline after they turn 30.