CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Miami Dolphins defensive players were stunned by what they saw and experienced Monday night.
The Carolina Panthers pounded Miami 45-21, a season high for points allowed. But it was the 294 rushing yards -- also a season high -- that really bothered players inside the Dolphins' locker room after the loss.
Miami entered Monday's game with a top-10 run defense. It was the most dependable area of the team in the first half of the season and perhaps the primary reason the team was .500 after eight games.
Yet Carolina made the Dolphins' front seven look like one of the worst in the league. Panthers tailback Jonathan Stewart (110 rushing yards), quarterback Cam Newton (95 rushing yards) and running back Cameron Artis-Payne (68 rushing yards) all ran through Miami's defense with ease.
"This isn't acceptable," Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end and captain Cameron Wake said afterward. "It's unacceptable."
The Dolphins' defense is slumping at the wrong time. But steady observers of the team should have seen this coming.
Miami's defense carried the team during the first six games. But the group has been steadily running out of gas since Week 8, when they lost 40-0 to the Baltimore Ravens. The Dolphins allowed 40 or more points in two of their past three games. According to ESPN Stats & Info, prior to that, Miami had allowed 40 points or more in two of its previous 114 games.
Carolina (7-2) also averaged 8.2 rushing yards per carry against the Dolphins (4-5).
"That's terrible," Miami safety T.J. McDonald said. "You can't play defense like that. That's on us. That's not the type of team we are."
November and December are crucial months in the NFL. The good teams -- and good defenses -- separate themselves down the stretch when it is time to make a postseason push.
There have been flashes of success for the Dolphins throughout the season. Miami had a stretch of three straight victories that included a pair of come-from-behind wins over the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets. In both games, the Dolphins showed the ability to lock down opponents at key times and make crucial plays.
That feels like a long time ago, after Miami's current three-game skid in which the team has been outscored 112-45. This version of the Dolphins appears destined to watch the playoffs from home in January unless they can quickly turn things around.
"The thing that blows my mind is this 'A' team that does this, in my mind, shouldn't be the same team that's doing this [Monday night]," a frustrated Wake said. "Those two teams should be separate. But that inconsistency is kind of baffling. The only way I know how to fix it is to dig in and work harder."