PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers spent the better part of three months stewing over that miserable October afternoon in Miami, when their hot start wilted in the South Florida sun and their swagger went right along with it in a stunningly one-sided loss to the Dolphins.
Redemption arrived Sunday in the form of Le’Veon Bell’s relentlessly churning legs, Antonio Brown’s quicksilver feet and James Harrison’s ageless tenacity.
The result — an emphatic 30-12 beatdown of Miami in the wild-card round at arctic Heinz Field — showcased what could make the streaking AFC North champions a difficult out the rest of the way.
Yet the most pivotal moment might not have come during either of Bell’s two touchdowns and 167 yards rushing or the two short passes from Ben Roethlisberger that Brown turned into long scores of his own. It might have come on Roethlisberger’s ultimately meaningless interception late in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
Roethlisberger ended up face down on the turf underneath Miami’s Cameron Wake during Xavien Howard’s short return. And while he sprinted off the field in the giddy if frigid aftermath, Roethlisberger was wearing a boot on his right ankle as he talked about his team’s eighth straight victory.
“You’re always worried about being hurt, but I’ll be out there next week,” Roethlisberger said.
If Pittsburgh (12-5) wants to reach the AFC title game for the first time in six years, the Steelers don’t have much of a choice. A visit to AFC West champion Kansas City (12-4) looms next weekend, a place that hasn’t exactly been hospitable to Pittsburgh through the years regardless of the stakes.
Other takeaways as the Steelers (12-5) extended Miami’s playoff victory drought to 17 years and counting.
Pittsburgh’s eighth straight victory earned them a chance to be on the other side of a shot at redemption.
Pittsburgh embarrassed the Chiefs 43-14 at Heinz Field on Oct. 2. Kansas City responded by going 10-2 the rest of the way to chase down Oakland and claim the division title. As if the Chiefs needed more motivation, here comes the team that handed them one of the worst losses of coach Andy Reid’s long career. And the Steelers know it.
“We have to understand that the same passion and dedication that we put in this week to beat Miami, that’s how Kansas City is going to try to beat us,” Bell said.
Pittsburgh’s clinical thumping of the Dolphins (10-7) followed a formula that’s become familiar over the last two months. Roethlisberger looked for Brown early to open things up then relied heavily on Bell to control the clock and wear down Miami.
“Any time he’s playing like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat,” Brown said
One that could be a tough out this month. And maybe next, too.
Miami quarterback Matt Moore has spent a decade hanging around the league. Finally given a chance to start a playoff game with Ryan Tannehill out, Moore’s postseason debut was a mixed bag. He threw for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception while also fumbling twice. He also – somewhat improbably – missed just one play after getting drilled by Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree in the second quarter.
“I just got popped,” Moore said. “I just needed a second there. I got checked out. I felt fine. It was more of my jaw than anything else. I felt good. I came back in and I was fine. He got me pretty good.”
The 38-year-old Harrison, the oldest starting linebacker in the league, finished with 1 1/2 sacks . He chased down Moore late in the first half – ripping the ball from Moore’s hands in the process – to preserve Pittsburgh’s 20-6 lead. Harrison now has 10 career sacks in the playoff, the second-highest total in franchise history.
“He’s a peculiar leader because he’s somewhat unassuming and he doesn’t have a lot to say, but his actions speak volumes,” Tomlin said.
Miami’s rollicking victory over Pittsburgh on Oct. 16 was fueled by running back Jay Ajayi, who bulldozed his way to 204 yards to kickstart a breakout season. The sledding was far tougher this time around. It took Ajayi a quarter just to get into positive yardage and he finished with 33 yards on 16 carries, his longest run of the day going for all of 8 yards.
“They made it an effort that the run game was not going to beat them today,” Ajayi said. “They stacked the box and we didn’t execute like we should have.”
ICE ICE BABY
Players on both sides tried to downplay the 17-degree temperature or the single-digit wind chill. The Dolphins ran around in shirt sleeves while Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier went shirtless. Make no mistake however, it was miserable.
“I still can’t feel my fingers,” Miami offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod said 30 minutes after the final gun.