Blogger's note: So, we fried the motherboard on our last computer, but were able to salvage the data with the help of computer tech and all around great human being "Miracle" Matt Leaper. We're working on an iPad while waiting for our new home computer so this blog is likely more full of errors than usual and we're in no mood to fix them.
The score: Miami 34, Pittsburgh 28
The bottom line: The Steelers faint playoff hopes were extinguished Sunday against a snowy backdrop in a poorly played, poorly coached and poorly officiated game that was purely entertaining. In the end, it was lumbering tight end Charles Clay, not fleet-footed Mike Wallace, who put a dagger in Pittsburgh's bizarre season as there simply weren't enough good defenders wearing black and gold to stop Miami's late rally and 34-28 win.
It was over when: The Steelers were in the procees of running a half-hearted final play when the old Stanford band laterals began, and even more amazingly, began working. The ball found its way back into Ben Roethlisberger's hands and when he lateraled forward from the PIT 32 to Antonio Brown at the PIT 33.5, the game was over for all intents and purposes, even though the illegal play was not flagged. But the excitement was just beginning as Brown jitterbugged over, around and through Miami players, finally breaking loose down the left sideline and into the end zone. For a split second, visions of a Heinz Hallelujah hung in the air. Then, the side judge signaled (correctly) that Brown stepped out of bounds 13 yards from a seeming miracle. Many pointed out (again correctly) that Brown had enough room to avoid the last Dolphins defender and still stay in bounds, but had that happened, the ending really would have become legendary as the review of the scoring play would have allowed officials to go back and correct the oversight in allowing the illegal lateral.
Player of the day: What a day Clay turned in, pretty much beating the Steelers himself on three critical plays. His first TD catch, midway through the second quarter, gave Miami its first lead, but was rather pedestrian, as he snuck out of protection into the right flat and was left uncovered. His second big catch might have been the play of the game as he beat cornerback (cornerback!) Cortez Allen on a simple 9 route for a 40-yard gain on 3rd-and-4, midway through the third quarter and immediately after Troy Polamalu's Pick 6 had given the Steelers the lead and the momentum. Clay's back breaker TD came late in the fourth quarter and gave the Dolphins the lead for good as he spun away from both Allen and Polamalu inside the PIT 10 and stumbled into the end zone as Polamalu clapped his hands in frustration.
+ The Steelers secondary is in total disarray with both Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor looking like guys playing the final year of their careers. Allen, who coaches thought so highly of that they let Keenan Lewis walk, has been terrible. And although Polamalu has shown flashes of his old self, he's more susceptible than ever to the big play.
+ What to do at linebacker? In a very limited sample, Jason Worilds and LaMarr Woodley looked like they could wreak some serious havoc on the field together and Jarvis Jones continued to look very lost.
+ On the defensive line, Cam Heyward is emerging as a beastly presence, but EVERYONE else is suspect.
+ Give Ryan Tannehill credit. The Texas native, in his first game in the snow, outplayed Roethlisberger, who played well himself.
+ If you thought the NFL wasn't going to take a draft pick from the Steelers over the sideline thing, you have not been paying attention to the sheer stupidity of top cops Ray Anderson and Merton "Chicken Neck" Hanks.
+ There were 13,000 no shows Sunday. Yes, those tickets are paid for, but that's 13,000 people not spending money for parking, 13,000 people not buying beer or eating hot dogs. The Steelers swoon is going to take some serious dollars out of people's pockets over the next few weeks.
+ Great restraint was shown by John Parry not flagging Heyward for roughness when he slammed Tannehill to the turf on a first-quarter sack. But if you read Peter King's insightful behind-the-scenes series this week on NFL officiating, you know Parry is likely to be downgraded for the no call come Tuesday.
+ But that was the end of the restraint for Parry and crew, who did what they always do, overofficiate. When you play as poorly as the Steelers played, it's impossible to say officiating influenced a loss, but that doesn't change the fact Pittsburgh suffered from six confounding second-half calls. There were two bogus calls in the third quarter, a flat-out ridiculous UNR on Ryan Clark and a very iffy hold on David DeCastro. Then there were two classic overofficiating examples -- illegal procedure for a double-clutch snap (that caused no one to jump) and illegal man downfield (by a yard!) -- that stalled a 4th quarter Steelers drive that could have given PIT a two-score lead. Then, there were two seeming fouls against Emmanuel Sanders, a PI and a hold, that looked much more obvious than the illegal man downfield, but were not called. To make matters worse, a channel hopper could have seen New England and Baltimore get PI calls on much less agregious fouls at roughly the same time, both of which decided the outcome of those games. This is not to suggest there's an NFL conspiracy against the Steelers, there isn't, just that the inconsistency of NFL officiating from week to week, crew to crew, and even from quarter to quarter, is maddening.
+ Almost as bad as the 4th-and-10 decision, which we'll get to, is the ongoing ease with which Mike Tomlin burns critical timeouts (twice this week!) without any indication he realizes it's costing him opportunities to win or that anything is being done to address the issue.
+ Of all the dumb things Tomlin has done on gameday this year, going for a 4th-and-10 inside his own 10 with 2:53 on the clock and two timeouts remaining might be the dumbest. First, 4th-and-1, you think about it, but converting 4th-and-10 is an extremely low-percentage play. Yes, the Steelers defense hadn't stopped anyone but the Dolphins couldn't afford to be aggressive or risk stopping the clock without Pittsburgh using a timeout. You punt the ball, the Dolphins run twice, throw on third down and attempt a long field goal with 2:00 left.
+Likewise, i's hard to understand why the Dolphins didn't call timeout with the Steelers facing a 4th-and-2 with 1:21 left in the first half. Instead, they let Pittsburgh run :40 off the clock with that lame "we're going for it" bit.
In the booth:
+ Dan Fouts "went there" on Le'Veon Bell's Baltimore concussion, saying he got his bell rung ... and then to make it worse, he waited for Ian Eagle to react to it
+ Fouts had his eagle eyes on, noticing gunner Markus Wheaton uncovered on a second quarter punt. (The same thing happened in Baltimore, btw.) Rather than throwing to Wheaton for an easy first down near midfield, the Steelers motioned him back into the formation.
+ Beyond that, though, Fouts was largely terrible, seemingly unaware of some of the key things going on in the game, never moreso than when he suggested the Dolphins might throw on 3rd-and-goal with 1:56 remaining and the Steelers out of timeouts. Eagle gently brought some sanity to the broadcast, turning the discussion back to the clock situation. Fouts had done some good work on Steelers games the past few years, but he's also had some Simms-esque moments.
A word from our sponsors: Using that giant baby in the Nationwide manages to be both stupid and creepy.
Next week: The Steelers return to national television next Sunday evening, hosting the Bengals. We'd expect NBC to spend a lot of time on the Tomlin incident, since it (rightly) low keyed it when it actually happened on their network.