The morning after the Panthers' impressive win over New England — their sixth in a row — there was a bit of straight talk in the Dolphins’ offensive meeting room.
Because those same Panthers come to town this Sunday.
"I said we've got to score 35 points this week," Brian Hartline said. "Coach [Mike] Sherman said we need to score 40 points. We're going to be aggressive."
More than aggressive. For the Dolphins to score 40 points, they'll have to be a completely different team than they’ve shown the first 10 games.
Despite opening up the Ross vault on free agent stars expected to propel the Dolphins' offense into the 21st century, a case could be made they're actually less potent than they were a season ago. They have yet to score more than 27 in any game.
The Dolphins rank second to last league-wide in total offense (307.8 yards per game) and are 23rd in points (21.3). By comparison, they averaged 3.7 more yards, although 3.3 fewer points, in 2012.
“I mean we have to score more points period,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "We’ve been in a lot of close games.
"We’re working at it, guys are working hard every single day. Certainly we’ll take them any way we can get them, quick, long, slow, fast, points are good.”
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
The Dolphins invested some $35million in guaranteed money in four players expected to be cornerstones of a offensive renaissance: Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller, Brandon Gibson and Tyson Clabo.
Gibson is out for the year with a knee injury. Keller never played a down because of his own. Clabo struggled so mightily, the Dolphins had to trade for Bryant McKinnie mid-season (although he has played better since Jonathan Martin walked out on the team).
As for Wallace, the expected deep threat? He ranks 41st in receiving yards (534) and 132nd in yards per catch (12.1).
The Dolphins will also again be without three starting offensive linemen — Richie Incognito and Martin because of the bullying scandal, and Mike Pouncey because of illness.
If they wanted to, of course, the Dolphins could bring back the suspended Incognito at any time. He spent hours meeting with Ted Wells on Thursday and Friday, and there are increasing signs of a thaw between he and the organization.
Wells, who was appointed by the NFL to investigate the Dolphins’ workplace environment, said Saturday night that he has concluded his initial round of interviews with the Dolphins.
In a statement, Wells said his firm has “spent time with every player and coach, as well as key staff members and management. Our work will continue over the next few weeks. I want to thank Stephen Ross, the Dolphins organization and its players, coaches and staff for their complete cooperation throughout this process.”
The Dolphins went out of their way to praise Incognito for his cooperation in the league's investigation — just 10 days after Ross couldn't even bring himself to say his name.
Plus, they allowed him to meet with Wells on team property, instead of barring him from the premises. And Incognito, in a show of good faith, agreed to delay his grievance hearing until after Wells finished his inquiry.
Still, the odds of a full-blown reconciliation appear long, according to members of the extended Dolphins family. More likely, some believe, Incognito and the Dolphins will come to some sort of financial agreement and part ways once and for all.
Dolphins players, no doubt, want Incognito back. For management, however, that might be a bridge too far.
With the Panthers' stout front seven coming to town, the Dolphins could use him. Carolina has the stingiest defense in football, allowing just 13.5 points per game.
Although stud defensive end Charles Johnson will not play for Carolina on Sunday, the Panthers still have three players in their front seven who rank among the top 15 of their position, according to Pro Football Focus.
As for the offense, Cam Newton appears to have emerged as a top-tier quarterback, and Carolina has a top-10 ground game.
So it's no surprise, then, that Dolphins coaches have said they'll need their best game of the year to win.
"We’re at a critical juncture in the season now," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "I think the attitude has been good, the work ethic on the practice field has been tremendous. That’s never an issue.
"I think we’re going to come out and play our best football here over the last part of the season.”