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Carolina Panthers ride fourth-down conversions to win

Before his early-season football epiphany, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was saddled with the NFL's worst record in close games. His team now has won seven consecutive games, each of the last three by less than a touchdown.

Staying true to "Riverboat Ron's" newfound aggressiveness, the Panthers made up for a 10-point halftime deficit with a pair of second-half touchdown drives that featured key fourth-down conversions on their own side of the 50-yard line to beat the Miami Dolphins 20-16 on Sunday.

Now the hottest team in the NFL, Carolina draws the suddenly surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week. If the winning streak continues, the Panthers can gain control of the NFC South with games against the New Orleans Saints in Weeks 14 and 16.

Here's what else we learned in Sunday's game.

1. Cam Newton had his worst performance of the seven-game winning streak. He was sluggish for the majority of the first half after taking a hit to the mouth from Cameron Wake early in the game. To Newton's credit, he bounced back with a stronger second half, leading touchdown drives of 12 and 14 plays. He's now winning the close games that he lost in his first two seasons. A great defense will grant that opportunity for a quarterback.

2. The Dolphins have the most unreliable ground attack in the league. Running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas combined for 16 yards on 13 carries, the fourth time in 11 games that the duo has been held under 25 yards. It doesn't help that the offensive line is down three starters since the beginning of the season.

3. Charles Johnson's absence was felt on the Panthers' defensive line. Although Carolina's three sacks and eight quarterback hits look respectable, Ryan Tannehill had too much time in the pocket in taking a 16-6 first-half lead. This is the best defense in the NFL when Johnson is in the lineup. Over the past six quarters, it's been too easy to move the ball without their premier pass rusher on the field.

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