Williams' three touchdowns help Dolphins beat Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With Ronnie Brown lost for the season, the Miami Dolphins turned to their aging running back.

Ricky Williams showed he's still got it.

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The 32-year-old 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 to get into the AFC playoff picture.

A day after learning Brown is lost for the season to a foot injury, 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.

"Coach always talks about finishing," Williams said. "Sometimes in this league, in a physical game, it's difficult to finish. I think in the past we've prided ourselves on finishing games and we did a good job tonight."

DeAngelo Williams rushed for 122 yards for the Panthers (4-6), but Jake Delhomme had his streak of three games without an interception snapped. His desperation pass into the end zone was knocked down as time expired.

"We just didn't tackle well," Carolina defensive tackle Damione Lewis said. "Ricky is a hard running, big tailback, He broke some tackles, and that's him."

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano hinted his team might abandon the Wildcat without Brown, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. 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.

Four downs

» The Dolphins have won five of their last seven games following an 0-3 start.

» Dolphins RB Ricky Williams scored rushing and receiving touchdowns in the same game for the first time in his career. He recorded back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the first time since 2005.

» Jake Delhomme (42 pass attempts) is 7-27 since 2004 when having 30-plus pass attempts and is 36-4 since 2004 when having fewer than 30 pass attempts.

» The Panthers' offensive line allowed Delhomme to be sacked a season-high four times.

Miami took a 14-3 halftime lead when Williams took the direct snap at the 1 and got to the end zone ahead of 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.

Williams also caught two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown. Chad Henne overcame losing his center and the backup and committed no turnovers.

"We struggled a bit during the game, but the defense kept it close to give us an opportunity and give us time to get it together," Williams said.

Still, the Dolphins had to hold off the Panthers. After Williams' long run, the Panthers got a field goal. After failing to recover an onside kick, they stopped the Dolphins on downs and had one more chance. Delhomme found Gary Barnidge on passes of 29 and 17 yards. But from the Miami 26, Delhomme's lob into the end zone was knocked down by Tyrone Culver.

"Guys are fighting their tail off," Delhomme said. "We are just not getting it done. ... We are not winning the close ones."

Early on, Carolina's offense stalled because of its makeshift offensive line and the return from exile of Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter.

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. They used it sparingly after that, and the offense got bogged down without Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross.

Porter had two of Miami's three first-half sacks, beating Gross' replacement Travelle Wharton.

The Dolphins had their own offensive line troubles. 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. Henne bobbled Garner's second snap, but recovered.

Berger returned on the next series and was injured again. Henne completed 17 of 29 passes for 172 yards.

For more on the Dolphins' win over the Panthers, check out the latest from our bloggers.

DeAngelo Williams' 50-yard run early in the third 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 also began eyeing the playoffs after starting 0-3.

"There's still a lot of football left and we're still no way in any stretch out of it," Panthers coach John Fox said.

The loss to Fox's old offensive coordinator leaves them in tough shape. 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.

NOTES:Panthers LB Landon Johnson, filling in for the injured Thomas Davis, left with a knee injury. ... Panthers DE Julius Peppers again played mostly on passing downs only because of a right hand injury. ... Dolphins backup RB Lex Hilliard, who came in without an NFL carry, ran four times for 24 yards. ... The Dolphins and Texans (0-2) are the only teams the Panthers have never beaten.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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