For a brief second, it appeared a miracle on par with the Immaculate Reception would give the Steelers a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Miami on Sunday at Heinz Field.
With Pittsburgh trailing 34-28 on the last play of the game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connected with receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a desperation pass near midfield. What transpired after that was the usual plethora of laterals that normally don’t lead to anything but an offensive lineman getting tackled as he tries to out-gain a handful of defensive backs. Turns out, right tackle Marcus Gilbert actually found himself with the football, but he had the presence of mind to get rid of it like a hot potato, and Roethlisberger eventually had his hands on the ball one last time, as he lateraled it to receiver Antonio Brown, who raced down the left sideline and reached the end zone as he out-ran the Dolphins defenders who chased him in vain. Unfortunately, instead of the officials signaling a touchdown, Brown was ruled out of bounds at the 13-yard line. Of course, even if Brown wasn’t out of bounds, since a touchdown wasn’t called on the play head coach Mike Tomlin couldn’t have challenged it anyway because the play occurred after the two-minute warning, and all replays must come from the replay booth.
Crazy ending aside, it was a tough loss for a Pittsburgh team that came into Week 14 clinging to playoff hopes at 5-7. With the loss to the Dolphins (7-6) coupled with Baltimore’s exciting victory over the Vikings, the Steelers now find themselves at 5-8 and two games out of the sixth seed with three weeks left. In other words, time to start thinking about playing out the string.
In a losing effort, Roethlisberger set a franchise record for touchdown passes when he connected with Sanders on a five-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. For the day, Roethlisberger was 17 of 25 for 349 yards and three touchdowns. Roethlisberger has now set the franchise pace with 215 touchdown passes in a career that still has a few miles left in it.
I was initially going to give the MVP award to defensive end Cameron Heyward, who was a man among boys on Sunday, as he racked up nine tackles (six solo), a quarterback sack and even a pass defended. The defense even managed to tally its second touchdown of the season, when safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a Ryan Tannehill pass in the third quarter and raced 19 yards to score after one of his patented acrobatic leaps into the end zone. But Polamalu was also one of many goats on a defense that allowed several big plays—including rushes of 48 yards by Tannehill in the first quarter and a 55-yard scamper by running back Daniel Thomas in the fourth quarter as part of Miami’s winning-touchdown drive. For the day, Pittsburgh’s defense yielded 181 rushing yards to the Dolphins and gave up 24 second half points—including Miami’s first fourth quarter offensive touchdown in nine games, when tight end Charles Clay broke three tackles to score the go-ahead touchdown with 2:53 remaining.
X-Factor—Roethlisberger’s lost fumble in the second quarter
With Pittsburgh ahead 7-3 in the second quarter, Dolphins’ linebacker Cameron Wake sacked Roethlisberger and caused him to lose a fumble that Miami’s Randy Starks recovered at the Steelers’ 31-yard line. The Dolphins capitalized five plays later when Tannehill hooked up with Clay on a six yard score to make it 10-7. In a game that was decided by six points, Roethlisberger’s costly turnover proved to be the difference in the game.
Key Stat—Le’Veon Bell’s 18 rushing yards in the second half
The rookie out of Michigan State looked fairly impressive in the first half, when he rushed for 40 yards on 10 carries. Coming into the game, the Dolphins defense ranked 25th in the NFL, giving up an average of 122 rushing yards a game. However, in the second half, Pittsburgh didn’t seem too keen on exploiting this apparent weakness any further, as Bell only carried the football three times for 18 yards.
Tweet of the Game
Can we admit that the Steelers' D just STINKS? Pick-6, then give the lead right back. Old, slow& done.
— Mark Madden (@MarkMaddenX) December 8, 2013
What This Loss Means
At 5-8 and two games back for the final playoff spot in the AFC with three weeks left, the loss effectively eliminates the Steelers from playoff contention.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
December 15, 2013, 8:25 p.m. (ET)