Heading into week 14, both the Dolphins and Steelers were just one game back from the final AFC Wild Card spot. The Baltimore Ravens sat in the drivers seat despite an inconsistent season, and were struggling against Minnesota while this game was happening. Little did we know, that both of those games (riddled with snow and inclement weather) would come down to two of the craziest finishes in NFL history.
The first half of this game was little more than average. The weather made both teams play slightly more conservative, and slightly more sloppy. The Steelers relied heavily on banger-back Le’Veon Bell early, and he helped them lead a 12 play, 74 yard drive that culminated on a Roethlisberger 5 yard TD toss to Emmanuel Sanders. The Dolphins quickly answered with a 64 yard drive, wherein Caleb Sturgis hit a 34 yard FG. The short passing game continued to be quiet but effective for Miami, as Ryan Tannehill used drag routes and comebacks to WR’s Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline to sustain drives. The first Dolphins TD came on a 6 yard pass to utility back Charles Clay, and the Dolphins went up10-7 at halftime.
Tannehill got just 10 yards per completion, but had a very solid day. He went 20/33 for 200 yards, 3 TD’s and one INT, and added 56 yards rushing. Everything caught fire in the 3rd quarter, despite the snow on the ground. Daniel Thomas ran for a 4 yard Dolphins touchdown, and then Pittsburgh rallied. Heath Miller and Antonio Brown became very effective through the air, and Brown turned a short drag route into a 43 yard TD. On the ensuing series, future hall-of-famer Troy Polamlu did…well, what he does, intercepting a Tannehill pass and returning it 19 yards for another Steelers score. With Pittsburgh up 21-17, the Dolphins refused to lay down. Sometimes TE, sometimes RB, and sometimes FB, Charles Clay had perhaps his biggest game in the NFL (7 catches, 97 yards, 2 TD’s), and he came up big at the most important times. He helped anchor a drive that finished with a 4 yard TD pass to Hartline, putting the Dolphins back on top 24-21 to end the 3rd.
Roethlisberger would continue the air-show though, and he notched his 4th straight game without an INT (23/39, 349 yards, 3 TD’s, but did lose a fumble). Big Ben hits the hot Jericho Cotchery for a 16 yard TD after an 11 play drive. But the defense for Pittsburgh crumbled in the 4th, allowing the Dolphins to score another TD to Clay and a FG, tallying the games’ final 10 points on long Miami drives. The Steelers O-Line also broke down late in the game, allowing two late sacks. But the real scintillation came on 4th-and-9 with three seconds to go, as Pittsburgh takes the ball from their own 21 yard line, and performs a series of laterals, which ends up in the hands of Antonio Brown. Brown scampers 56 yards down the sidelines and appears to score as time expires, only to have stepped out of bounds with the tip of his heel at the Miami 12. Perhaps if Tomlin was on that sideline, the results would have been different (hehe). But nonetheless, the Dolphins escape with the 34-28 victory.
Antonio Brown posted another huge day of 138 yards on 5 catches and a TD, and the receiving core played well in general. On defense, Ike Taylor essentially shut down Mike Wallace, allowing only 2 catches for 19 yards. Jason Worilds continued his team MVP type season, with another 8 tackles and a sack. Cameron Heyward got the other Pittsburgh sack and had one of his better performances. For Miami, Daniel Thomas ran for 105 yards on 16 carries and a TD. CB Brent Grimes won’t be found on any stat sheet this week, but he played very well in pass break-ups and tight coverage all day. Now the Dolphins are knocking on the Ravens door (who won as well in a thriller) as the 7th team in contention. The Steelers now fall behind a myriad of teams. While the AFC is very weak this year and the Ravens face a very tough schedule, anything is possible…but a playoff run now seems HIGHLY unlikely. Until the next opening kickoff, valued readers…
-Pittsburgh Steelers Correspondent