The Miami Dolphins’ stay in the NFL playoffs was brief, but at least they got there. On Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers had their way with Miami in a 30-12 rout at Heinz Field.
Despite the score and the fact Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell set a franchise playoff rushing record with 167 yards, Miami had their chances. Three costly turnovers and a devastating penalty proved fatal, however.
Early on, the Dolphins looked like they did not belong. If Bell wasn’t running crazy, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was playing pitch and catch with Antonio Brown for long (60 and 52 yards) touchdown passes.
It was 20-6 and looking to be a lot more. While Bell was piling up the yards, Dolphin running back Jay Ajayi was getting piled on. After running through the Steelers for more than 200 yards during a 30-15 Dolphin win in October, Ajayi managed on 33 yards on 16 carries on Sunday.
“Last time, we felt we didn’t play well,” Bell said. “Those guys got after us, they jumped on us early.”
Not on Sunday. Pittsburgh scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to put Miami on their heels.
“The defense played great today, stopping their run game, making it tough on (Ajayi) their side; he’s a great runner,” Bell said. “On the other side, we wanted to control the ball, score some touchdowns and we did our job today.”
They certainly did, but the door did open for Miami just a bit.
The Dolphins’ big chance came near the end of the first half and the start of the second. With Matt Moore hooking up with receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, the Dolphins reached the Steelers eight-yard-line in the final 30 seconds of the half.
With the Dolphins set to receive the second half kickoff, Coach Adam Gase believed his team could tie the game early in the third quarter. That plan was blown up by linebacker James Harrison.
As Moore dropped back in the final 30 seconds, Harrison, who was unblocked, got a clean shot at Moore, who fumbled and the Steelers recovered. On the first series of the second half, Moore was again sacked in Pittsburgh territory, he again fumbled, and the Steelers again recovered.
After a Steeler field goal, Moore was picked off on the first play of the next series. Miami held Pittsburgh to a field goal attempt, but Tony Lippett jumped offside, giving the Steelers a first down. Three plays later, Bell was in the end zone, making it 30-6.
These kinds of things can’t happen during the playoffs. You can get away with stuff like that against Cleveland or the 49ers.
It’s not time for excuses, but it is fair to point out this is the Dolphins’ first playoff game since 2008. There is every reason to believe there will be more and they can become playoff veterans like so many of the Steelers are.
The trick is to get a playoff game at home. That will mean beating the New England Patriots to win the AFC East.
Tom Brady won’t be there forever. Even if he is around another two or three seasons, Gase is building a solid foundation in south Florida.