Steelers must find something to play for
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers have three games left, and very little chance they’ll have much meaning.
The Miami Dolphins beat the Steelers 34-28 Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, leaving the Steelers 5-8 and likely to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
They can’t improve on last year’s 8-8 record, and another loss within the AFC severely damaged them in terms of tiebreakers.
Two of three games are at home, including this Sunday’s prime time matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.
There’s little on the line for the Steelers now.
“Pride,” defensive back William Gay said. “Play Steelers football and represent this great organization.”
Undoubtedly jobs are on the line, too.
“We aren’t going to quit,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We’re going to keep playing. Come back tomorrow and get to work.”
Roethlisberger was giving perfunctory answers to most questions. When someone opened by asking where Sunday’s loss ranked in terms of heartbreak, he dismissed it as “kind of a silly question.”
He wouldn’t bite when he was asked if the Steelers need to be torn apart for a fresh start.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re just going to give it everything we have. There’s not going to be any quit from anybody.”
Most players were in a hurry to leave the locker room.
“It’s late in the season and when you lose these types of games, it’s not a good feeling,” receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “It’s a tough, tough feeling right now.”
Almost a miracle?
There was no fantastic finish for the Steelers on Sunday.
Antonio Brown wound up in the end zone, but officials ruled that he had stepped out of bounds along the Dolphins’ sideline while racing downfield to end a multiple-lateral play.
But they came close on the most improbable play.
The sequence of laterals went like this after Roethlisberger completed a pass to Emmanuel Sanders: Cotchery, Le’Veon Bell, Marcus Gilbert, Roethlisberger, Brown.
It appeared that Roethlisberger may have made an illegal forward pass to Brown, but Brown’s step out of bounds made that a moot point.
Brown’s misstep was not forced by a defensive player.
“The referee came up to me and said, ‘Just so you know, everything is going to have to be reviewed, every single part of it,'” Roethlisberger said. “I said that’s fine. I knew mine was good. I thought the rest of them [laterals] were good.”
The other laterals didn’t seem to be in any dispute.
Roethlisberger said the play was pure improvisation, with no elements that had been part of any practice.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he was watching the official who had the sideline and knew instantly that Brown did not score.
“I saw his motion before [Brown] even went in the end zone,” Tomlin said. “That’s just regular mechanics. [The official] was very clear and definitive about what he saw over there, so there was no emotional roller coaster ride of any kind.”
Miami cornerback Brent Grimes said his thoughts were simple as the last play unfolded:
“No! This can’t be happening. That’s what I was thinking. We got lucky. Sometimes you get lucky.”
There was a steady snowfall in the first half. The snow abated in the second half, but it still covered much of the field.
The grounds crew used snow blowers to clear the yard lines, hash marks and boundary lines as much as possible.
The Dolphins are used to heat and humidity, although many of the players confronted cold weather in collegiate games.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a Lubbock, Tex. native who played at Texas A & M, adapted to the conditions.
“I played in the cold before, but never snow like that,” he said. “It was fun. It wasn’t too bad. Early in the game, the snow was coming down pretty good, but the ball felt good all day.
“You’re warm on the sideline, and once you get in the game, you feel good. It wasn’t anything really affecting the game too much except for the footing.
Other than a few slips, it didn’t really have a big impact on the game.”
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said, “It snowed a little bit more than I thought it was going to in the first half, and they had to get used to the footing a little bit. Then it calmed down. The wind wasn’t too big a factor. They got used to their footing and were able to execute.”
Troy Polamalu had a 19-yard touchdown interception return, the third TD return of his career.
It was his 32nd career interception, tying Jack Ham and Darren Perry for seventh on the Steelers’ career list.
Polamalu could have had another TD return in the first quarter, but he couldn’t hang onto a Tannehill pass that hit him in the numbers.
Shut it down
Bell ran the ball 10 times for 40 yards in the first half. He carried just five times in the second half, gaining 21 yards.
Why not go to him more often in the second half?
“Coach [Todd] Haley is over there,” Roethlisberger said. “You could probably ask him. I don’t know, there was no particular reason. We just tried to move the ball. I thought we did a good job passing, too.”
The recurring theme in postgame comments was the Steelers needed to do more.
“Not enough playmaking for us in any of the three phases to secure victory,” Tomlin said. “We dropped a couple of balls, those types of things. I thought we could have tackled better. That contributed to some of the splash plays.”
Defensive end Cameron Heyward said, “They executed better than us.”
“December football, you can’t make mistakes,” Cotchery said. “That’s what it boils down to. We had a chance to finish them off. We just didn’t do it offensively.”
Mike Wallace caught two passes for 19 yards in his first game against the Steelers. He was targeted five times.
The Dolphins’ leading receiver was tight end Charles Clay, who had seven receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was a little different, but at the end of the day, we had business to take care of,” Wallace said.
He and Brown exchanged jerseys after the game.
“That’s my brother for life,” Wallace said. “We played together for three years. I have a lot of love for him and his family.”
Wallace’s message to Steelers fans, who booed him?
“I had a great time while I was here. I love and respect everyone here. I will always have them in my heart for my whole life. Things happen for a reason. You have to do certain things in life that are best for yourself. I will have love for these guys (Steelers) forever.”
SUBHEAD: Clean getaway
Tomlin said the Steelers didn’t sustain any significant injuries during the game.
“Just minor bumps and bruises associated with playing,” Tomlin said.
Cornerback Ike Taylor had a helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Ryan Clark and was prone on the field early in the second half.
Doctors and trainers attended to him, and Taylor bounced up and trotted off the field.
He missed two plays.
Stats and streaks
-The Steelers have allowed only four sacks over the last four games. That’s the team’s lowest four-game total since 2005 (Oct. 23-Nov. 11).
-Roethlisberger has 215 career touchdown passes and has overtaken Terry Bradshaw (212) for the franchise record.
-Heyward had 10 tackles (seven solo), with a sack, a tackle for a loss, and one quarterback hit.