BEACH SLAPPED Banged up and bumbling Steelers slammed in Miami

The score: Miami 30, Pittsburgh 15

The bottom line: In what likely will be a critical loss come playoff time, injuries finally caught up with the Steelers, who had no answers Sunday to the Dolphins physicality and who once again played down to the level of a lowly opponent with Ben Roethlisberger un-leading (what’s the opposite of leading?) the way to a 30-15 drubbing that could have been much, much worse.

It was over when… To their credit, Pittsburgh kept the game alive until an onside kick with 1:02 remaining that one-hopped harmlessly to Jarvis Landry, sealing the Steelers fate one play before Jay Ajayi broke off a long TD run to put him over 200 yards for the day.

Play of the day: The Steelers had established an 8-3 lead on an eye-popping touchdown run on a reverse by Darius Heyward-Bey and the Dolphins were preparing to go Dolphin three plays later with Ryan Tannehill and Kenny Stills miscommunicating on a route, resulting in a Tannehill pass heading right into William Gay’s hands for what might have been a Pick Six but almost certainly would have set the Steelers up inside the Miami 20. Gay dropped it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Hot topics:

+ We call it a “Tomlin Trap” performance, but in all honesty, what can a coach do when his quarterback plays like that? Ben Roethlisberger was terrible, mentally and physically, well before he dinged his knee. He was atrocious after that. The silly sack Roethlisberger took late in the first quarter to knock Pittsburgh out of field goal range was a rookie mistake. The decision to throw on the play he was injured on was worse. This was right up there with Roethlisberger’s all-time stinkers.

+ Is it a good thing or a concerning one that Antonio Brown has not looked the part of an elite wide receiver since Week 1?

+ Pittsburgh obviously missed Cam Heyward and Marcus Gilbert along their lines, but David Decastro looked like he got brutalized again, just as in the Steelers embarrassing loss in Philadelphia. One embarrassing road loss is a fluke, two is a trend.

+ This one will sting come January. Losses by Cincinnati and Baltimore help in terms of the AFC North, but a conference loss like this one likely will make the difference between an off week or a Wild Card game or a home or away game in the playoffs. Should Pittsburgh qualify, we’ll revisit in January.

Zebra hunting:

+ We won’t go on and on here. The officiating was an atrocity. It’s a big part of why the game’s popularity is in decline. Ed Hochuli is fun before a game starts, but he’s abysmal at his job and so is his crew.

+ The personal fouls in the game were laughable. As we feared when the NFL began its ridiculous crackdown on violent play six years ago, the bar for what is illegal keeps getting lowered, with several players called for late hits in this game for hitting a runner right on the boundary.

Game mismanagement:

+ Once again, not much to mention here. It would have been nice to have three timeouts late in the game, but the one Pittsburgh called to give their defense a breather in the fourth quarter in the Miami heat was understandable.

In the booth:

+ To his credit, Solomon Wilcots is so much better as an analyst than he was five years ago. He’s also very quick to pick up trends, especially in terms of blocking schemes and coverages. On the flip side, he’s still too scripted in his big-picture narrative. It was clear Sunday that the CBS crew had prepared during the week to talk about the Steelers stout run defense and the fact that defense was being gashed didn’t stop Solly from dropping about three “Steel Curtain” references into the first half.

+ Spero Dedes is great to listen to, but he committed a cardinal sin for a play-by-play guy in the second quarter, missing the call on a penalty flag on the field during an apparent Dolphins TD and letting Wilcots get well into his analysis of the score before Ed Hochuli was the one who informed us the play didn’t count..

And now a word from our sponsors: With the NFL’s ratings in a big-time decline this year, advertisers likely already are receiving compensatory spots from networks. Selling the Super Bowl this year ought to be interesting for FOX.

Sweet tweet:

+ @Jason_Shetler: NFL — Numerous Flags League. (Blogger’s note: A whopping 160 penalty yards were assessed in the game, with numerous declined penalties AND numerous double-flagged players.)

Next week: Pittsburgh returns home to face the squad from New England, who has a fair quarterback and widely revered coach, or so we’ve heard. A day ago, some considered this the game of the year. Pittsburgh’s South Florida swoon will put an end to that talk, but we’d expect the Steelers to regroup and give the beloved Pats a decent game next week in Pittsburgh

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