PITTSBURGH – With 94 seconds left in the first quarter of Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the lowly – and maybe tanking – Miami Dolphins held a 14-point lead against a sputtering, seemingly unprepared and disinterested Steelers squad coming off a bye week.
Chances are that you’ve seen this movie before. Or at least think that you have.
Surely Monday’s game against an 0-6 team was another case of Pittsburgh playing down to inferior competition.
It’s a narrative that has plagued the Steelers in recent years and it does carry legs when thinking about losses in 2018 like the ones suffered in Denver and Oakland – teams that combined to go 10-22 this past season.
Or in 2017 when Pittsburgh fell to a Chicago Bears team that finished 5-11.
Or 2016 when … OK, you get the idea.
With the team’s four losses coming to a quartet of teams with a combined 26-4 record, falling to Miami wouldn’t just be embarrassing, it would have been a crushing blow to the Steelers’ ever-tenuous grip on playoff contention.
Here’s where the movie has a happy ending, at least during Monday’s screening: Pittsburgh rattled off 27 unanswered points to hand the Dolphins their seventh loss in as many games.
In fact, Monday’s win could fit the theme of many different genres of the silver screen. Themes such as …
Revenge flick: Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off a pair of passes with both leading to eventual Steelers touchdowns. It was the first time that Fitzpatrick had seen his former teammates since the Dolphins coaxed a 2020 first-round pick from Pittsburgh in exchange for the dynamic safety in the lead up to Week 3.
On Monday, Fitzpatrick showed that the acquisition may have been worth that pick.
Redemption story: Mason Rudolph was 2-for-8 with an interception during the first quarter. This almost became a Halloween-appropriate horror flick with evident rust and maybe a few jitters afflicting Rudolph in his first action since getting knocked cold by Baltimore’s Earl Thomas on Oct. 6.
Rudolph’s next three quarters? 19 of 28 for 221 of his 251 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
While his passes weren’t the sharpest and there were a few near picks tossed in to keep things exciting, Rudolph’s final three quarters were free of any negative plot twists.
A comedy of errors: While the Dolphins were a tough out until Pittsburgh managed to pull away in the second half, Miami still provided an absurdly laughable moment when a third-and-20 snap from the Dolphins’ 45 led to an eight-man, cover-zero pass rush that was hardly disguised and easily thwarted.
With three defensive backs matching three receivers, two decided to shadow JuJu Smith-Schuster, leaving Diontae Johnson free to catch a short pass from Rudolph and run without much resistance for over 30 yards before slipping a tackle and scoring on the 45-yard pass play, cutting Miami’s lead to 14-10.
A best supporting actor award could be handed to James Washington for his wipeout block inside the 5, which allowed Johnson to score.
One-man tour de force: T.J. Watt had two sacks during the fourth quarter, one that forced a fumble, which Watt recovered as the Dolphins hopes were fading by the snap.
He totaled three quarterback hits, and forced another fumble as he tormented Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick when the Steelers needed it the most.
A comeback tale: Well, Roosevelt Nix’s presence alone made the Steelers’ running game stronger as James Conner rushed 23 times for 145 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown. having an actual fullback in the formation allows Pittsburgh to create space for Conner in ways that were not happening over the Steelers’ first six games.
A story of appreciation: Tackle Zach Banner saw plenty of action as a lineman eligible as Pittsburgh routinely opted for more beef up front. Toward the end of game, an announcement from referee Ronald Torbert stating that “No. 72 (Banner) reports as eligible” was greeted with cheers from fans remaining at Heinz Field.
Not quite a slow clap, but it was a noticeable gesture.
Final review: A movie is only as strong as its impending sequel. A continuance of the story arc where the Steelers climb from murky depths could be quite the popular flick in Pittsburgh. The production crew, writers and performers have six days to put that sequel together with the Indianapolis Colts billed as antagonists.