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.
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.
Miami took a 14-3 halftime lead when Ricky 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. Henne overcame losing his center and the backup and committed no turnovers.
“We struggled at 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. They then forced a punt, and 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.”
Delhomme was just 19-of-42 for 247 yards, and Carolina fell to 0-4 against the Dolphins.
Lacey’s Jonathan Stewart rushed 12 times for 43 yards for the Panthers.