Cam Newton threw a long desperation pass that fell incomplete on the final play of the first half Friday night, and that's the closest he came to reaching the end zone.
Newton played the entire first half, when the Panthers (1-1) managed only three first downs, had the ball for less than eight minutes and fell behind 17-0. Newton went 7 for 14 for 66 yards, and he ran four times for 18 yards.
"With this performance tonight, I'm not pleased with it at all," Newton said. "We just couldn't find a way to stay on track. Three-and-out is not acceptable. We put our defense in some lose-lose situations."
Carolina crossed midfield for the first time when Newton ran for 7 yards on the next-to-last play of the half.
"As a whole offense, we didn't do the things we needed to do," new Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We didn't protect the quarterback, we didn't run good routes and then we didn't make good decisions, either."
Reggie Bush, another former Heisman Trophy winner, played for the first time since joining the Dolphins and totaled 81 yards from scrimmage in three series. He ran eight times for 48 yards, including a 17-yard burst up the middle, and caught two passes for 33 yards.
Soon he had the crowd chanting, "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!"
"I wanted to make an impression with this team and the fans," Bush said. "I'm all about earning respect."
Chad Henne played the entire first half and led the Dolphins to 17 points in five possessions, including 10 points in two series against Panthers reserves. Henne went 15 for 24 for 194 yards, and he had a 17-yard scramble for Miami (2-0).
"Chad did a great job," Bush said. "He took control of the game. He looked like a really good quarterback."
The Dolphins went 1-7 at home last season, and Henne was booed during a recent scrimmage on the same field. Spectators had little to complain about in the opening half, however, as they watched the Dolphins outgain the Panthers 301-90.
"It's good to get a win at home and start a run that way," Henne said. "Winning at home is pretty important to us. We're trying to build tradition here."
Charlotte did sit out six starters, including four on offense. But a sputtering offense was nothing new for the Panthers, who ranked last in the NFL in points and yards in 2010, when a 2-14 record gave them the chance to take Newton in the draft.
The crowd was likely the smallest he has played before since his days at Blinn College. Announced attendance was 54,157, but the actual turnout was about 30,000.
Jimmy Clausen, who started last week for Carolina, entered the game to begin the second half and went 9 for 15 for 69 yards. The Panthers scored their touchdown in the fourth quarter after Miami backup quarterback Matt Moore lost a fumble.
Rivera declined to say when he'll decide whether to start Newton or Clausen in the opener Sept. 11 against Arizona.
"They were efficient at best," Rivera said. "They made some good reads, made some good decisions but missed a couple of throws. That was disappointing."
In two games, Newton has yet to lead the Panthers to a touchdown. When asked if he had done enough to be the No. 1 quarterback, he said, "No sir. I'm not going to worry about who's the starting quarterback and who's not. I'm just going to worry about myself, as a whole, getting better."
Newton's first pass went to Greg Olsen for 12 yards, but the Panthers were then forced to punt, and they totaled only 10 plays on their next three possessions.
The second possession by the Dolphins' first-teamers resulted in a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the first quarter. The final yard proved the toughest — Miami ran up the middle three times for no gain before Lex Hilliard scored on a fourth-down leap.
In the second quarter, Henne led another 12-play scoring drive against Panthers reserves. It ended with a 39-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter.
The Dolphins got the ball back with 2:03 left in the half, and Henne moved them 63 yards for a score in four plays, the last a 4-yard run by Thomas.
Notes: Charlotte's running backs totaled 46 yards rushing. ... Fifteen players caught passes for Miami. ... Third-string linebacker Thomas Williams had seven solo tackles, including one on special teams.