PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers and all their fans just watched their playoff hopes spin down the drain after a 34-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
On the final play of the game for the Steelers, which included several laterals, Antonio Brown appeared to score a touchdown as time ran out. However, it was ruled that he stepped out of bounds at the 11 to nullify the amazing score.
The Steelers fell to 5-8 on the season with three games remaining and will need to win all three just to match last year's 8-8 mark. The Dolphins improved to 7-6 and remain in the playoff hunt for the sixth and final wild-card spot.
The Steelers trailed 10-7 at halftime, but scored three touchdowns in the second half -- twice in the third quarter and on the first play in the fourth quarter to take a 28-24 lead. However, a 55-yard run by Daniel Thomas that spun around Ryan Clark when he had an open-field tackle opportunity put the Dolphins in the red zone. Two plays later, quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit tight end Charles Clay in the flat. Cortez Allen and Troy Polamalu missed tackles, and Clay scored the winning touchdown.
Miami got the ball back after holding the Steelers on four downs and kicked a 27-yard field goal to set the final score.
The defensive lapses marred a solid performance by Ben Roethlisberger, who had three touchdown passes, and wideout Brown's 90th catch this season. Hines Ward (four times) was the only other Steelers wideout with more than 90 receptions in a season.
The Steelers appeared to be on their way to a solid performance after the defense stuffed Miami on its opening possession, and the offense marched down the field with precision on its second drive. Running back Le'Veon Bell, fresh from a concussion Thanksgiving night at Baltimore, keyed the touchdown drive that went 12 plays and 74 yards in 7:05.
Bell had eight carries for 32 yards. Roethlisberger hit tight end Heath Miller for 22 yards to change the field position, and Bell added a nine-yard reception to the 11 on third-and-six. Two plays later from the 5, Roethlisberger found Emmanuel Sanders open for the touchdown, and the Steelers had a 7-0 lead with 4:20 remaining in the first period.
That would be all the scoring for the Steelers in the first half, as the Dolphins got a 30-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis and six-yard touchdown toss from Ryan Tannehill to tight end Charles Clay. Tannehill ran bootleg left for 48 yards to set up the field goal, and a strip-sack by Cameron Wake on Roethlisberger put Miami in business midway through the second quarter at the 31.
Tannehill found Mike Wallace open for 12 yards to the 19 and again for seven and a first down to the 9. Two plays later, Tannehill tossed to Clay for the score. The Steelers appeared to be on their way with a nice ensuing drive, but a holding penalty against Marcus Gilbert slowed them down. A 13-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery and four-yard run by Bell gave the Steelers a third-and-three at the 38, but instead of working it for a first down Roethlisberger went long and overthrew Brown.
In the second half, Miami quickly extended its lead to 17-7 with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in 4:10. Tannehill completed several big passes, including a 20-yarder to Clay, 15-yarder Richard Matthews and 18-yarder to Brian Hartline. Steelers safety Ryan Clark, in his zeal to drill Hartline, clubbed cornerback Ike Taylor instead. Taylor suffered injured ribs on the play, but returned later in the game.
Several plays later, Clark was called for a targeting penalty on a defenseless receiver, even though Daniel Thomas lowered his head on the play, to give Miami first and goal at the 4. The big play in the drive were the passes, and it would have been first-and-goal at the 8 without Clark's penalty. He has deserved some this season, but this was not his worst. Thomas ran it in from the 4 to give Miami a 17-7 lead.
The Steelers fortunes changed markedly after that. First, Roethlisberger led the club on an amazing four-play, 83-yard touchdown drive in 1:52. He connected with fullback Will Johnson for nine yards and after misfiring on another long pass attempt, Roethlisberger hit Miller for 31 yards to the Miami 43. He then found Brown open on a crossing route, and he zig-zagged through the Dolphins for the long touchdown to make it 17-14.
The Steelers took the lead two plays later. A penalty on the kickoff got Miami started at the 10, and Thomas lost two yards on first down. On second down, Tannehill looked for Clay again, but Polamalu picked it off and raced 19 yards for a touchdown. He was sailing toward the goal line with everything out of bounds except the football. Replays could not overturn the ruling, which was that the ball crossed over the pylon for a touchdown.
The Dolphins bounced right back with a 71-yard touchdown drive in seven plays and 3:13. Tannehill changed field position with a 40-yard lob to Clay. Thomas ran for 13 to the 12 and a first down. On third-and-one at the 3, Hartline beat Allen to the side of the end zone, and Tannehill connected with him for the score to give Miami a 24-21 lead with 4:52remaining in the third quarter.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers came right back with another go-ahead touchdown drive in 11 plays, 78 yards and 4:56. Roethlisberger hooked up with Jerricho Cotchery for 10 yards on third-and-four, 13 yards to Brown on third-and-10 and 21 yards to Sanders to get into the red zone. Bell ran twice for 12 yards to the 16, and Roethlisberger found Cotchery in the end zone for the TD.
Miami needed just 1:38 and four plays to go 80 yards to regain the lead with 2:53 remaining in the game. Thomas ran 55 yards to the 16 and on second down from the 12, Tannehill threw the ball in the flat to Clay. Allen and Polamalu could not bring him down, and he rumbled into the end zone to give the Dolphins a 31-28 lead with 2:53 remaining.
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