MIAMI -- Patrick Surtain delivered a chest-high hit at full speed that left intended receiver Richard Huntley dazed and made the crowd gasp.
On the next play, Lorenzo Bromell leveled a scrambling Dameyune Craig, whose dislodged helmet went skipping across the turf.
And those weren't even the most taxing blows delivered Sunday by the Miami Dolphins. Their bruising defense scored a touchdown, sent quarterbacks Craig and Chris Weinke to the bench with injuries and handed the struggling Carolina Panthers a particularly painful defeat, 23-6.
Weinke, Carolina's 29-year-old rookie, left in the third quarter with a sprained right shoulder, and two replacements threw their first NFL passes. Fourth-year pro Craig went 4-for-8 for 34 yards before spraining his right foot, and Matt Lytle mopped up in the final six minutes.
"You've got to smack somebody in the mouth every once in awhile," said Surtain, who gave Miami the lead for good with a 29-yard interception return.
The Dolphins (5-2) retained their AFC East lead, while the Panthers lost their seventh in a row and fell to 1-7.
With the region under a tropical storm warning as Hurricane Michelle churned just south of Florida, the stadium was almost half empty despite an announced sellout of 72,597. But conditions could have been worse - occasional light rain fell and winds gusted to 25 mph.
Miami's ground game was stymied for the third consecutive game, but Jay Fiedler overcame the weather to enjoy his best day of the season. He went 20-for-33 for 287 yards and a score, with one interception. His three wideouts made 13 receptions for 223 yards.
"A year ago we probably wouldn't have been able to do that," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "In the conditions we had today, that's encouraging."
Weinke departed after going 9-for-21 for 158 yards with one interception, his 10th in five games. He sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder in the first half, received a shot of Novocain at halftime and threw two incompletions in the third period before coach George Seifert took him out.
"He was cleared to play," Seifert said. "I felt it was affecting him, so I took him out of the game. I didn't want to press it."
The change only seemed to inspire Miami, and Carolina's offense failed to score a touchdown for the second successive week.
"Regardless of how I'm feeling physically, it hurts more that we lost another game," Weinke said. He said he hopes to be able to play Sunday at St. Louis.
Seifert said Craig might be sidelined for up to six weeks, but Craig said he expects to be available against the Rams.
Olindo Mare kicked field goals of 36, 45 and 29 yards for Miami. Carolina's John Kasay hit from 27 and 20 yards, but sent a 51-yard attempt wide right late in the first half, his first misfire this season after making 10 in a row.
A trick play by Miami backfired in the first half. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Carolina 20, the Dolphins lined up for a field goal, But holder Matt Turk pitched over his shoulder to Mare sprinting wide. The Panthers weren't fooled and swarmed Mare for a 5-yard loss.
"Olindo was going to be the star," Wannstedt said with a laugh. "We worked on it in practice, and he even had his touchdown dance down. But they just reacted to it."
Miami scored on the next play when Weinke threw an interception. Brian Walker broke up a pass intended for Wesley Walls and deflected the ball to Surtain, who scored his first NFL touchdown for a 10-3 lead.
The only offensive TD came on the first play of the final period. Fiedler hit Rob Konrad with a 5-yard scoring pass to cap a 60-yard drive and make the score 20-6.
"I'm at a loss for words," said Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan, who returned after missing four games with a broken leg. "We have to dig ourselves out of the hole we're in. I don't know how we do that."
Notes: Morgan sprained his left ankle, but said the injury wasn't serious. ... Walls sprained his hip. ... Carolina receiver Muhsin Muhammad sprained his knee, but returned to the game. ... Miami safety Brian Walker and backup defensive tackle Jermaine Haley each broke his right thumb in the first half, but returned. ... Carolina cornerback Doug Evans' streak of making an interception in every game this season ended. ... Four of Miami's next five games are against AFC East rivals.
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