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When it comes to game-winning drives, it is the quarterback who usually gets the credit.
On this day 15 years ago however, it was a defensive play that loomed large in deciding the game. In just his third game as a member of the Miami Dolphins, safety Lance Schulters came up with a critical late-game interception to set up Olindo Mare’s winning field as Miami topped the Carolina Panthers, 27-24.
Setting the Stage
The Dolphins were coming off of their first losing season since 1988, but opened the 2005 season with a victory. Under first-year head coach Nick Saban, Miami arrived at Dolphins Stadium with a 1-1 record to take on the Panthers on Sept. 25, 2005.
Carolina came in 1-1 after a 7-9 season in 2004. The Panthers were two years removed from an appearance in the Super Bowl.
Schulters Saves The Day
The Dolphins had twice led by 11 in the first half and as many as seven in the final quarter, but as the clock ticked toward two minutes, the Panthers were driving to win the game. With the contest knotted 24-24 and the Panthers facing 2nd-and-9 at the Miami 43-yard-line, Schulters saved the day.
On a pass intended for Keary Colbert, Schulters stepped in front of the Jake Delhomme throw. Schulters made the interception and returned it 37 yards to the Carolina 25-yard-line.
A pair of runs by Ronnie Brown resulted in a Miami first down and allowed the Dolphins to melt most of the clock. With seven seconds remaining, Mare knocked home a 32-yard field goal to win the game for the Dolphins.
Most of the offense came in the first half. Brown’s short touchdown run got the scoring started before Gus Frerotte found Randy McMichael for an 18-yard touchdown to give the Dolphins a 14-3 lead after a quarter.
Delhomme found Steve Smith twice for touchdowns in the second quarter. Those scoring strikes were sandwiched around a 42-yard touchdown pass from Frerotte to Chris Chambers. Miami led 21-17 at the break.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Dolphins extended their lead to seven on a 27-yard make by Mare midway through the final quarter. It took Carolina just three plays and 20 seconds to answer as Delhomme and Smith hooked up for a third touchdown — this one 53 yards.
Following a 3-and-out from Miami, Carolina marched from its own 15 into Dolphins’ territory before the costly turnover.
Schulters was the game’s hero, but Zach Thomas led Miami with 17 tackles, two for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Offensively, Brown rushed for 132 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
Delhomme passed for 285 yards in the loss with most of those going to Smith. Smith caught 11 passes for a game-high 170 yards and all three Carolina touchdowns. Chambers led the Dolphins with 93 receiving yards.
Following the contest, the teams headed in different directions. Miami lost six of its next seven games. The Dolphins did circle the wagons to win their final six games and finish with a winning record of 9-7.
The Panthers would win their next six games en route to an 11-5 finish. Carolina reached the NFC Championship for a second time in three years, but fell to the Seattle Seahawks.
It’s unclear if it would have made any difference, but the loss to Miami would cost the Panthers an NFC South division title. That loss came on this day a decade and a half ago.