Cutler’s return bolsters struggling Miami’s flickering playoff bid as Dolphins visit Panthers

November 13, 2017

by: Noel Zarate

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With Jay Cutler back in harness for the Miami Dolphins (4-4), the veteran quarterback, who signed for a one-year deal to take the place of five-year ironman Ryan Tannehill after season-ending surgery, was required to fix a double ligament tear in his left leg.

But after a freak accident in Week 7 against the New York Jets, Cutler cracked several of his ribs and his absence started a two game skid seriously dents their playoff chances. Redemption is at hand as the former Super Bowl champs visit Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to take on National Football Conference (NFC) South division contenders the Carolina Panthers on this Monday Night Football encounter in the National Football League (NFL).

Game-time is 9:30AM LIVE on ESPN5.

Cutler, who had his lone Pro Bowl selection as a member of the 2008 Denver Broncos, was thrust back into action against Oakland after back-up Matt Moore failed to lead the Dolphins to any sort of score and ended up being blanked for the second time in the season 40-0 versus the Baltimore Ravens. But even with a heroic effort by a still sore Cutler couldn’t get Miami over the hump versus the visiting Raiders as they still came up short, 24-27.

With a full week’s rest and a renewed sense of purpose after losing a close one last week, the Dolphins enter the road game with hopes of resuscitating one of the worst offenses in the league and get his squad at least one step back in the right direction for a shot at at least a Wildcard berth in the American Football Conference (AFC) .

Miami has actually fared well before Cutler went down; winning three straight since their first bagel against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4 (even emerging victorious against the Jets in that fateful encounter).

But since their defense began losing key members as cornerback Bobby McCain (hamstring), linebacker Mike Hull (shoulder) and safety Michael Thomas (knee) have been on the shelf during that stretch. With all three now being listed as questionable for the upcoming tiff, it gives Miami a better chance against the surging Panthers; winners of two straight.

But there could be issues bewing in the Panthers’ camp as the recent trade of third year wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills after Carolina picked up his option for five years at the start of the season has not sat well with some members of the team, especially quarterback Cam Newton who has been very vocal about the deal that sent one of his favorite targets away.

“You can’t replace Benji, just like you can’t replace a [Devin Funchess], you can’t replace a Greg Olsen, you can’t replace anybody else who’s on this team,” said Newton, the seven year starting playmaker from Auburn. “You just have to roll with the punches and make do [with] it.”

Benjamin, who led Carolina in receiving yards this season with 475 on 32 receptions, was shipped to the Bills for Buffalo’s third and seventh round picks in 2018, was an integral part of the offense that barely got by a struggling Tampa Bay and just did enough to nip the Falcons last week. Newton, who hasn’t been among the bashful about sharing his sentiments in the past, has been more than a little affected by the recent transaction but is looking to turn all his attention into helping the Panthers sustain their winning run and move them ahead of division leading New Orleans.

“My intention for this meeting is not to dwell on Benji,” Newton told a reporter, “It’s gone, it’s done, it’s over with. It’s time for us to move forward, however hard it may be, but we’ve got a football game still to play. I wish him the best.”

Newton has been inconsistent thus far with ten touchdowns and eleven interceptions this season while going 170 of 256 for 1,978 yards or 219.8 Yards Per Game (YPG)—good for 22nd in the league. Funchess, Christian McCaffrey and Ed Dickson (who has been stellar of late) now need to help mend an offense that still is without center Ryan Kalil who has been out with a neck injury since Week 8 as well as tight end Chris Manhertz (who is now being listed as probable for this Monday Night Football clash).

Will Cutler be able to return to full strength for the Dolphins to make that last charge for the playoffs, or will Newton come up with a performance worthy of honoring the departed Benjamin and help Carolina claim the NFC South divisional lead for the first time this year?

High drama ensues as the NFL continues all season long on ESPN5.

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