Never mind the score. For the second consecutive week the Miami Dolphins got fine performances from their starting offenses and defenses before the backups failed to hold the lead in eventual losses.
This night the Carolina Panthers, down 14-0 when the starters were in the game, rallied behind their substitutes to win, 31-30.
The good news is that for the second consecutive week, starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sharp. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 102 yards. He had one TD and no interceptions. His quarterback rating was 117.2
More importantly, Tannehill moved the offense. He played three series. One ended with a punt. Two ended with touchdowns.
For the preseason, Tannehill is 18 of 22 for 158 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His QB rating this preseason is 126.9. He has led three TD drives in five possessions this preseason.
He looks ready, folks.
And that's important because, well, maybe he should not play next week against Atlanta in the so-called rehearsal game of the preseason. That third game, to be played at the refurbished Sun Life Stadium, is the one starters usually play into the third quarter.
But here's the thing: The Dolphins are not going to be ready to play starting left tackle Branden Albert in that game, barring a significant, significant change in the progression of his return to football following last year's reconstructive surgery.
Albert is on schedule to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 13 against Washington. Next week is not Sept. 13.
Albert has been getting 5-10 plays against his teammates in team drills of late. His next step is not playing three quarters of football in a preseason game. His next step is stepping up the workload in practice, particularly in team drills.
So forcing Albert in against Atlanta seems unwise. Maybe he gets some snaps in the preseason finale. Maybe not. But not next week.
And so why is this a thing?
Well, backup left tackle Jason Fox, who has been starting while Albert has been out, left tonight's game to undergo evaluation for a concussion. He did not return. If the evaluation is positive, it is possible Fox might not be cleared to play versus Atlanta.
If he is not -- and obviously I don't know at this point -- that would mean neither the first-team nor second-team left tackle would be in the game to protect Tannehill's blind side against the Falcons. I suppose the Dolphins could play Ja'Waun James at left tackle as they did last year but that is not optimal for a team trying to get a second-year player ready to play right tackle in the regular season.
After the game, Coach Joe Philbin was non-committal about how he'll deal with the situation.
"We'll see and take it a day at a time and see what our options are, where he's at," Philbin said. "It's a little early to project."
Look, if Fox is cleared, this is not an issue. Until that happens ... issue.
It must be said that even though the Dolphins moved the football and had success, Tannehill was under duress. He was sacked once and fumbled as a result. He had two other dropbacks where he didn't have time.
Tight end Dion Sims gave up a sack and right guard Billy Turner gave up a pressure as well as a tackle for loss in the backfield on a run.
The Miami defense, having collapsed at the end of 2014, has been dominant so far in the preseason and that continued tonight.
The unit did not yield a touchdown. Indeed, it gave up only two field goals. It had two three-and-out series. It stopped the Panthers with a goal line stand. And it gave the offense the ball in the red zone when Jamar Taylor picked off a pass deep in Carolina territory.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton completed only 4 of 10 passes against the Dolphins starters. He threw the INT. And his QB rating was 13.3. That's not good.
Now to the reserves ...
The story changes. Overall, the Dolphins are showing they have very little depth based on the fact their reserves are playing poorly as units the past two weeks. This team does not look terribly deep when both the Chicago Bears and Panthers turned first-quarter deficits (starters) into losses when the Miami backups were in the game.
Not all the reserves are struggling, however.
LaMichael James, trying to impress coaches and earn a roster spot, had a 21-yard punt return and a 22-yard run from scrimmage as he led the team with 45 yards on six carries. He helped himself tonight.
Receiver Matt Hazel, trying to stick in a crowded receiver room, led Miami with four catches for 47 yards and one touchdown. He also had a 4-yard TD grab.
Taylor, trying to lock down a starting job at the boundary cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes, had the interception and that's good. But he got hurt and, if you know his history, that's bad. He left the game with a quadriceps injury. It did not seem extremely serious.
Rookie CB Bobby McCain also left the game with an ankle injury. That one looked much more consequential. Not good.
The rest of the backups not named Gerell Robinson were unimpressive. Robinson caught a 10-yard pass and turned it into a 56-yard touchdown.
The offense turned the football over -- with interceptions thrown by Matt Moore and Josh Freeman.
The defense gave up the lead and in so doing exposed some vets that probably should not get exposed in the second half of preseason games.
Former third-round pick cornerback Will Davis, for example, allowed consecutive completions and then followed that with a pass interference penalty.
Freeman, who's Dolphins experiment will end by getting cut before the regular season, was inconsistent. He threw an interception that gave Carolina the lead, was inaccurate, and then ... he threw that 10-yard pass that Robinson turned into magic.
I will say that both Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas were active on defense when they were in at safety. They are vying to replace Louis Delmas, who is out for the season. Aikens started and was fine early. Thomas came in later at strong safety when starter Reshad Jones left the game.
The battle for the final backup defensive tackle spot continues to rage. A.J. Francis had a sack. Jordan Phillips doesn't need to worry about that last roster spot. He's going to be on the team and he had excellent pressure on Derek Anderson on a stunt where he came inside out while Chris McCain, playing defensive end, took up two blockers.