It was not always pretty, and it was constantly in doubt, but in the end, the Miami Dolphins left Pennsylvania with their first road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1990. The win keeps the Dolphins in the AFC Playoff hunt, tied with Baltimore for the sixth spot, but losing out on the head-to-head tie breaker. The loss by the Steelers effectively ends their chances for the playoffs, knocking them two games behind the Ravens and Dolphins, with three games remaining.
The Dolphins started slowly, literally and figuratively trying to find their footing in a snowy Heinz Field. But, at the end of the day, Ryan Tannehill, Charles Clay, Daniel Thomas, Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Nolan Carroll, and the rest of the Dolphins came through to seal a Week 14 victory and tie the team's win total from last season.
The game winning touchdown came with 2:53 remaining in a game that saw six lead changes, four in the second half. On that play, tight end Clay caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tannehill, giving Miami 31 points compared to Pittsburgh's 28. The Dolphins would add a 27-yard field goal with just over a minute remaining to extend the scoreline to its final total, 34-28.
Clay had another career day in a season full of them for the third year tight end. He caught seven passes for 97 yards, including being on the receiving end of a beautiful dime from Tannehill for 40-yards. Clay caught a second quarter touchdown pass from Tannehill in addition to the fourth quarter game winner.
Clay's game winning touchdown reception was set up two plays earlier by a 55-yard run from Daniel Thomas. The third year running back returned to the team after missing last week's game against the New York Jets with an ankle injury. Originally believed to be a season ending ligament tear, Thomas' return was a surprise this week, but was a needed one. Starting running back Lamar Miller was forced to leave the game in the third quarter after sustaining a concussion. Thomas had game highs in attempts (16), yards (105), and rushing touchdowns (1). Miller had six carries for 20-yards and two receptions for 13-yards before he was injured.
Thomas' 6.6 yards per carry average was second on the team behind Tannehill's 28.0 average on two carries. One run for Tannehill, coming on a read option keeper, went for 48-yards, the longest run of the second-year quarterback's career. Tannehill finished the game 20-for-33 for 200 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He had a 95.5 passer rating for the day.
Along with the seven receptions for 97-yards and two-touchdowns from Clay, wide receiver Brian Hartline added five receptions for 51-yards and a score. Former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace added two more catches for 19-yards for the Dolphins.
The defense struggled in different portions of the game, getting pushed around early and allowing way too many receiving yards to tight end Heath Miller (56) on three receptions. But, in the end, they made the plays when needed, and helped the offense come away with the victory.
Safety Chris Clemons recorded a game high 12 tackles, along with one pass defensed, while Cameron Wake and Paul Soliai each recorded a sack. Wake also managed to strip the ball from Ben Roethlisberger, with the fumble recovered by defensive tackle Randy Starks. The first Clay touchdown pass came five plays later.
Roethlisberger finished the game 23-for-39, for 349-yards, with three touchdowns. He had a 114.2 passer rating in the losing effort.
This was just the second game of the season in which Miami did not record an interception, but the fumble recovery continues the turnover streak for the Dolphins, recording at least one takeaway in all 13-games.
The Dolphins defenders may have never been able to hold on to the ball on Sunday, but safety Reshad Jones, cornerback Brent Grimes, Soliai, cornerback Nolan Carroll, and Clemons all had one pass defensed, preventing some critical plays from the Steelers' offense.
Perhaps the game saving play from the defense came late in the fourth quarter, between the Clay go-ahead touchdown and the lead extending field goal from Caleb Sturgis, when the Steelers were forced to try to convert a fourth down play. Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket and looked as if he were going to convert when Olivier Vernon tracked the Pittsburgh quarterback down from behind and tackled him one yard shy of the first down sticks.
The play everyone will remember from the game came as time expired, when Roethlisberger connected with Emmanuel Sanders for seven yards, and Pittsburgh began lateraling the ball all over the field. After running for 13-additional yards, Sanders tossed the ball back to Jericho Cotchery, who threw it to Le'Veon Bell, who gave it to Marcus Gilbert, who tossed it back to Roethlisberger. After Big Ben advanced the ball to the Pittsburgh 33-yard line, then threw the ball to the sideline, where Antonio Brown caught what may have been an illegal forward pass but wasn't flagged. After running 67-yards down the sideline and into the endzone, it appeared Brown had won the game for the Steelers. However, the referees correctly ruled that Brown had stepped out of bounds at the Miami 13-yard line.
The Dolphins survived a crazy ending to the game, one that could have ripped out the heart of fans and crippled the team's playoff chances. Instead, Miami is now 7-6 with three games to play, and with a solid opportunity to work their way into the postseason. Miami faces the New England Patriots on Sunday in Miami.