Mike Tomlin likes to say “Style points don’t matter.” That’s his unique way of saying it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you win. It’s a good thing games aren’t judged on style because the Pittsburgh Steelers would’ve been mocked by Perez Hilton for their 23-22 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
For the second week in a row, the vaunted Steelers defense made a mediocre quarterback look like an All-Pro. Chad Henne, who threw four picks in his last two games, completed 23/36 for 257 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. While the defense did force a Brian Hartline fumble, they managed only one measly sack.
You knew it was going to be one of those days when rookie Emmanuel Sanders fumbled the opening kickoff. After forcing a field goal, the defense found themselves right back on the field thanks to a brainfart by Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ third offensive play. With the pocket collapsing all around Big Ben, he decided to try an inane flip pass to Redzone Redman with two guys holding on to him. The ball dribbled harmlessly to the turf where linebacker Koa Misi fell on top of it. Once again, the Steeler D held the Fins to a field goal.
Late in the first quarter, the offense finally got on track. Highlighted by a leaping 43 yard catch by Hines Ward, the Steelers ate up over eight minutes of clock with a thirteen play 80 yard drive. The drive stalled inside the Miami 10 and they settled for a Skippy Reed field goal. The Fins next possession ended with the Hartline fumble, which set the Steelers up deep in enemy territory. They took the lead on a 21 yard TD to Hines, who eluded three defenders on his way to the end zone. Ward, who would finish with 7 catches for 131 yards and a TD, was brilliant all day long.
The Dolphins moved the ball effectively on their next drive but once again had to settle for a field goal. Sanders, who to his credit did a very good job on kickoff returns after the early botch, brought the ball out to midfield. On their first snap, Big Ben hit a streaking Mike Wallace for a 53 yard touchdown bomb. That would be the last pass Wallace caught all afternoon as the 60 Minute Man only showed up for 30 this week.
Miami answered with their first touchdown drive of the game. Picking on the Steelers secondary, particularly Bryant McFadden, Henne moved the team 60 yards in a little over three minutes. A little 8 yard out to Davone Bess turned into a 26 yard touchdown when he broke out of a Willie Gay tackle, sidestepped a whiffing Ryan Clark, and outraced Lawrence Timmons to the end zone. It was a comedy of errors which brought back horrible memories of last year’s inept pass defense.
It didn’t help that guys were falling by the wayside left and right. First, Flozell Adams had his ankle rolled up and was replaced by Jonathan Scott. The lack of Flo and the horrible Doug Legursky no doubt contributed to Rashard Mendenhall’s worst game of the season (15 carries for a putrid 37 yards). Then Mister Woodley disappeared with a hamstring injury of undetermined severity. Rookie Jason Worilds replaced him and actually showed some flashes of brilliance. He’s a hellacious pass-rusher who reminds me a bit of Jevon Kearse with his speed off the edge. However, he’s clearly a one-trick pony at this stage, as all he seemed to do was go after the QB where Woodley is flexible enough to run with tight ends or drop back into coverage..
The third quarter began almost as disastrously as the first with the Dolphins returning the opening kickoff 46 yards. Thankfully, it was called back due to a holding penalty. But the Steelers good fortune lasted all of three plays. On the third snap of the second half, Aaron Smith left the game with a torn tricep. He’ll undergo an MRI later today but it looks like he’s out for the season. Again.
The Ben-to-Hines Connection resumed on their first possession of the third, hitting twice for 36 yards. On a third and 12 from the Miami 18, Ben had his second brainfart of the afternoon. Scrambling away from danger, he sprinted a good two or three yards past the line of scrimmage before deciding to release the ball. That’s an illegal forward pass, FYI. Skippy = Field goal.
Miami pounded out another field goal drive to end the quarter. The fourth was uneventful for the first six or seven minutes as the teams traded punts. Then came Big Ben Brainfart #3 when he was sacked by two Dolphins and the ball popped free in the struggle. Make like a groupie in Milledgeville, Ben. GO DOWN.
Luckily, Maurkice Pouncey snagged the ball to prevent any further tragedy. The Fins, perhaps invigorated by their sudden defensive superiority, moved the ball confidently down the field. Two long passes against our Swiss Cheese Secondary led to yet another Miami field goal. This boot shockingly put the Fins ahead 22-20 with five minutes left.
Sanders set the Black and Gold up at mid-field with another fantastic kickoff return. Time for some Big Ben heroics. A 29 yard screen to Mewelde Moore (where’s he been hiding?) got them down to the Miami 14. A Redman run and an unnecessary roughness penalty later, it was first and goal from the 4. Two more runs gained bupkiss. Then came the play which will live in infamy.
Look, I’m pretty much the biggest Steelers homer you’ll ever meet. I believe Super Bowl XL was officiated fairly, that Ben shouldn’t have been suspended for hitting on skanks, and James Harrison is a clean and honorable player. But even I cannot defend what happened on third down. The refs blew it in our favor.
Ben took the shotgun snap and immediately took off running on a designed scramble. About a yard short, he dove for the end zone, stretching out hoping to break the plane. The Miami defender smacked him in the elbow before he crossed the white line, causing a fumble. The ball rolled into the end zone where two or three Miami players jumped on it with only Doug Legursky anywhere close to the pigskin. Whistles were blowing as one ref was signaling touchdown while the others were rushing in to sift through the pile. A Miami player emerged with the ball.
Due to the one ref calling touchdown, the play went to review. It was pretty clear Ben fumbled before breaking the plane so that wiped the score off the board. The issue then became who recovered the fumble. For the first time that I can remember, the ref explained that you had to see clear proof of who recovered the ball otherwise the fumbling team retained possession. Since you couldn’t see who had the ball in that scrum of humanity, the Steelers kept the ball.
How was it not clear who recovered that ball? There were three Dolphins lying on top of the football! I understand because they didn’t call it a fumble on the field and didn’t un-pull the pile, it’s hard to determine who had it initially. But barring bottom of the pile finger biting and groin twisting by Legursky, I’m fairly certain Miami had possession.
Now, let’s forget the hysterical whining from South Florida for a second. Yes, they got hosed. But there was also two and a half minutes left. Even if Miami were given the ball, the Steelers had three time outs plus the two minute warning. They could’ve easily forced a punt and given Ben plenty of time to work the team into game-winning field goal range. Likewise, Miami still had over two minutes to drive into last-second field goal range themselves. So let’s not act like this blown call completely ended the game.
After Skippy’s field goal put the Steelers ahead, the Dolphins took the field with time on the clock. Miami ran four plays netting a grand total of four yards. On fourth and six, Worilds blasted Henne, hitting him just as he was about to throw. The duck wobbled through the air where Silverback narrowly missed coming down with an INT.
I guess I could be an optimist and say, “If the Steelers played this bad and still won, that’s a pretty good sign.” But, man, if the Dolphins could finish even 1/3 of their drives, we would’ve had a blowout of the wrong kind. This game was like a microcosm of everything that went wrong last season from crippling injuries to key players, dumb mistakes at the worst times, almost no running game, and absolutely atrocious play from the secondary. And that’s a nightmare I think we’d all prefer not to relive.
Topics: Aaron Smith, Baltimore Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger, Big Ben, Black And Gold, Black And Gold Blog, Chad Henne, Charlie Batch, Davone Bess, Dennis Dixon, Devone Bess, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Jason Worilds, Lamarr Woodley, Maurkice Pouncey, Miami Blown Call, Miami Dolphins, Mike Tomlin, Mike Wallace, Milledgeville Ben, Nice Pick Cowher, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers Blog, Roethlisberger, Roethlisberger Concussion, Roethlisberger Fumble, Ronnie Brown, Steeler Nation, Steelers, Steelers Blog, Steelers Nation, Stillers, Super Bowl Champions, Tomlinisms