By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers enter do-or-die mode as they face the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field. The Steelers at 5-7 must leapfrog the 6-6 Dolphins today if they have any hopes of securing the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. While they don’t control their own destiny, winning today would go a long way toward reaching the playoffs.
The Steelers began with the ball, and the first play from scrimmage was a five-yard pass to Le’Veon Bell. On second down, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for the first time in three games for a 12-yard loss. Roethlisberger was able to find Antonio Brown, but only regained the sack yardage, and the Steelers went three and out to start the game.
The Dolphins began from their 31 following the punt. The first down run was good for only two yards. On second down, Ryan Tannehill was nearly picked off by Troy Polamalu, which would surely have gone for a touchdown, but Cameron Heyward was able to bring down the quarterback on third down to force a punt.
The Steelers were quick to feed Bell on the first two carries of their second drive, going for four and then nine yards for the first first down of the game for either side. He was good for six yards to set up second and four on the next play. On second down, he got it again for three yards to set up third and one. On the short-yardage down, Jonathan Dwyer entered the game for Bell, and he powered his way up the middle for a few yards and the conversion.
Now across midfield, Roethlisberger found Heath Miller with room to run for 22 yards. Bell now back in, he picked up six yards on the following play. Dolphins nose tackle Paul Soliai, who was responsible for Roethlisberger’s sack, was injured on the play.
On second and four, Bell was stopped in the backfield for a loss of two. the third and long pass went to Bell for another first down. Bell was held for no gain on a delayed handoff after the first down, but was able to work his way for six after several moves to avoid would-be tacklers to make it third and manageable. Roethlisberger found Emmanuel Sanders near the end zone on third down, who found the goal line for the score and the 7-0 lead.
With Cortez Allen in coverage, Tannehill went for Mike Wallace deep, but Allen broke up the pass. On second down, Lamar Miller was good for seven yards. On third and three, Tannehill was able to scramble for the first down.
Tannehill faked the hand-off on the next play and kept it himself, gaining over 40 down to the 13. After a throwaway and a one-yard run, the Dolphins were in third and long in the red zone, and the play was stopped for no gain. The field goal was good, making the sore 7-3.
Sanders took the kick return out past the 30 to give the Steelers good starting field position. Right back to the rookie, Bell picked up about four on the ground on first down as the first quarter came to a close. On second down, Roethlisberger once again found Miller down the field, but he lost the ball at the end of the play for an incompletion. Roethlisberger’s third down pass hung up a bit short and Brown couldn’t secure the ball.
After one first down, Tannehill failed to handle the snap in the snowy conditions, and he was forced to eat it for a loss of eight. Tannehill’s second down pass was well out of bounds, and his third down pass was off-line to force a punt.
Felix Jones spelled Bell on the Steelers’ next drive, carrying for two and then five yards to set up third and three. Bell was back in on third down, but Roethlisberger was sacked as he went to throw the ball. The ball came out, and the Dolphins recovered.
Taking over at the 31, Tannehill found Wallace for a first down with a chorus of boos. The two hooked up again two plays later for the first to set up first and goal. On second down, the Steelers left tight end Charles Clay wide open for the touchdown as the Dolphins took a 10-7 lead.
Back on offense, Roethlisberger hit Brown for a quick pass and five yards on first down. His second down pass could not reach Jerricho Cotchery. The Dolphins were flagged for a neutral zone infraction to make it third and inches. Dwyer picked up enough for the conversion.
On first down, Marcus Gilbert was called for a hold, putting the Steelers back 10 more yards. Roethlisberger’s pass to Cotchery was good for 12. After five more yards by Bell, the Steelers faced third and three. Roethlisberger looked for Brown deep, but it was incomplete.
After a pair of holding penalties the Dolphins were faced with second and 26. After a 14-yard pickup, Miami was still in third and 12. The third down pass was batted by Heyward to force a punt.
With Dwyer spelling Bell, the Steelers were held to a loss of one on first down as the two-minute warning hit. After the ball was tipped, Miller was able to grab the ball for a three-yard gain. On third and eight, Roethlisberger hit Cotchery, but it came up four yards shy of the first down. Mat McBriar’s punt was blocked and recovered at the 42.
Worilds put pressure on Tannehill on first down to force a throwaway. On second down, Will Allen held Clay to five yards. On third and five, William Gay held the pass short of a first down. The Dolphins attempted a 52-yard field goal in the snow, but it was short. The Steelers made the return of the short punt interesting, but did not score.