Pittsburgh hosted Miami for the first time since the 3-0 “Mud Bowl.” This time around, the two teams played out a more thrilling affair and Antonio Brown came just one step away from executing an all-time finish.
With the snow falling and the field covered early, Pittsburgh came out with the intention of grinding the game out on the ground. Their second drive featured nine runs and only three passes, with one of the three ending up in Emmanuel Sanders’ hands for a 5-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead. It was the 213th touchdown of Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers career, putting him firmly past Terry Bradshaw for first place all-time in franchise history.
Miami answered with points of their own on the following drive thanks to their own version of a running game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill broke loose on a 48-yard scramble to set up a 30-yard field goal by kicker Caleb Sturgis.
With the snow still coming down, neither team was taking any chances and it looked like the first team to blink would be in trouble. The Steelers were that team. Ben Roethlisberger coughed up the ball on a sack by Miami’s Cameron Wake and set the Dolphins up in Steelers territory. Five plays later, tight end Charles Clay found himself uncovered in the endzone and pulled in a 6-yard touchdown to give Miami a 10-7 lead.
Miami would hold the lead in what was a fairly uneventful second quarter – until the final play, that is. The Dolphins decided not to go for it on fourth-and-two with 22 seconds left and attempted a 52-yard field goal. The kick fell well short and landed in the hands who returned it to the 30 before lateralling it to Steve McLendon, who promptly handed it off in reverse-esque fashion to Ike Taylor head to the left. Ike took it past midfield, but failed to break the last wave of defenders and complete what would have been one of the most exciting plays of the season.
The offensive dam broke for both teams in the second half as the snow stopped. Miami came out firing through the air on their first drive, but capped the 9-play effort with a four-yard run by Daniel Thomas to extend its lead to 17-7.
The Steelers would answer, though, and quickly. On the fourth play of the ensuing drive, after a 31-yard catch by Heath Miller, receiver Antonio Brown broke loose on a 43-yard catch-and-run with help from Miller’s blocking and brought the Steelers back within three.
Two plays later, Troy Polamalu got another chance to return the football. Polamalu picked off a Tannehill pass and returned it 19 yards before performing a Superman leap over the pylon for a Steelers touchdown and a four-point lead.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, the defense coughed that lead up on the ensuing drive. A 40-yard pass from Tannehill to Clay set up an impressive 4-yard tip-toe touchdown catch by Brian Hartline to put the Dolphins up 24-21.
Big Ben took to the no-huddle on the next drive, a pass-heavy 11-play effort that leaked into the fourth quarter. The ever-reliable Jerricho Cotchery had his number called on the last play of the drive and caught a 16-yard strike for a touchdown, putting Pittsburgh back on top 28-24.
All Pittsburgh’s defense had to do was hold Miami off the board and the team’s playoff hopes would stay alive. They accomplished it for two drives, but finally caved on the third. Daniel Thomas gashed the unit for a 55-yard run and Clay shook off two tacklers in punishing fashion to convert on a 12-yard score, putting Miami back up by three.
The Steelers got the ball back on their own ten-yard line, needing 90 yards to win or slightly less to tie. They got -1 thanks to a penalty on an eight-yard scramble short of the sticks by Big Ben on fourth down. Even with that stumble, the Steelers still had a small sliver of hope if they could hold Miami to a field goal in the final 2:23 of the contest.
Pittsburgh’s defense did, the offense got the ball back, and the Steelers came just inches away from what would have been an all-time great finish.
On fourth down with three seconds left, the Steelers sat at their own 26-yard line. Big Ben hit Sanders for a 20-yard gain, who then lateralled the ball to Cotchery. Cotchery lateralled to Bell who sent it in the direction of offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert tossed it back to Ben who found Antonio Brown with room to run on the left side of the field.
Brown used his speed to burn past Miami’s defenders and appeared to sneak along the sideline for a thrilling, game-winning touchdown as time expired. One problem: Brown just barely stepped out of bounds at the eleven-yard line, nullifying the score and what would have been an all-time great finish to an NFL football game.
Ziggy Hood (ankle) and Ike Taylor (ribs) both left briefly and returned to the game.
Through the Air
Roethlisberger had another solid outing, completing 23 of his 39 attempts for 349 yards and three touchdowns, though he did lose a fumble that led to a Miami touchdown. Antonio Brown continued his outstanding season with five receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown. Jerricho Cotchery (62 yards and a TD) and Le’Veon Bell (28 yards) also caught five passes. Emmanuel Sanders had four grabs for 57 yards and a TD. Heath Miller added 56 yards on three catches.
On the Ground
Le’Veon Bell had a decent game, but couldn’t break through to the second level of the Miami defense. Bell led the team with 15 carries for 61 yards. No other running back netted more than three carries or eight yards.
Pittsburgh’s defense came up with a few sacks and a turnover, but couldn’t get the stop when the team needed it. Jason Worilds had an excellent game with eight tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for a loss. Cameron Heyward led the team with eight total tackles and also picked up a sack. Troy Polamalu ended the contest with three passes defensed and one interception returned for a 19-yard touchdown.
Outside of the wild field goal return at the end of the first half, the return teams did little on the afternoon, averaging just 17.2 yards per kick return and 2.8 yards per punt return. Matt McBriar averaged 43.2 yards on six punts. Shaun Suisham did not attempt a field goal.
Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t perfect, but he threw three touchdowns and became the all-time leader in touchdown passes in franchise history.
Pittsburgh will host Cincinnati (9-4) at Heinz Field for Sunday Night Football. Kickoff is at 8:30PM with the broadcast carried by NBC.