I didn't get this game on tape, so I haven't been able to breakdown some of the bigger plays of the game, but I'm still excited and want to write a recap of the first half based on the notes I took.
The Dolphins' offense started across the 30 yard line after Wes Welker's 28 yard return on the opening kickoff. Two plays into the game, Culpepper hit Justin Peele on a 16 yard gain, and I immediately became concerned. It was just one pass, but I suddenly realized that Miami had Daunte Culpepper not Jay Fiedler running the show for the Dolphins. This could be a long night...Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton quelled those fears by stopping Ronnie Brown on consecutive plays, the latter resulting in a 4 yard loss that set up 3rd and 13. Those two stops were a forte of the famine to come for Miami's running game. After four straight 3-and-outs, Pittsburgh took over from their own 25
At this point, I have to admit I was nervous about our playing calling and our offense. Batch was 0-3 and it seemed painfully obvious that we wanted to give Willie Parker the ball on 1st and 2nd down. In true Steelers' fashion though, we stuck with it, and it began to pay dividends on our third drive of the game. Batch hit (Speedy?) Heath Miller for a 12 yard gain on 2nd and 8 for our first 1st down, Parker followed it up for a couple 4 yard gains, Santonio Holmes caught his first professional pass, and all of a sudden we were in Miami territory.
I loved our play call on 4th and 1 on the Miami 39. We had finally established some momentum and flow that series, and who knew when it would resurface. Great, gutsy call by the coaching staff. After two more Willie Parker runs, Batch hit Nate Washington for a 27 yard TD. Washington made an athletic and aggressive play on the football, elevating above the CB and absorbing a big hit to hold onto the ball as he fell across the goal line. 7-0 Steelers!
Miami got two 1st downs on their ensuing possession, but their running game stalled once more, and they were forced to punt. After Ricardo Colclough made one of the most laissez-faire and unfocused plays on a punt I've ever seen in a football game, Santonio Holmes got a chance to return one. He apparently wasn't awake either, catching the ball on his own 4 yard line! I'm sure you guys remember Coach Cowher having a word with Holmes on the sidelines after that one. This was just one several blunders made by our special teams last night.
Our defense maintained its dominance throughout the 2nd quarter, but our offense failed to muster another long scoring opportunity. At about the 6 minute mark, Wes Welker struck again, returning a punt 47 yards to the Pittsburgh 15. 2 plays later Ronnie Brown found the endzone and the score was knotted at 7-7.
Ricardo Colclough responded with a nifty return of his own, bringing it all the way back to the Miami 31 for 62 yards. Alas, holding, and it's all for not. Another mistake on special teams. Willie Parker finally broke a run on this drive, putting the Steelers back in Miami territory with a 32 yard run. After a costly pass interference penalty on Miami's defense, Batch hooked up with Hines Ward for a 7 yard TD. 14-7 Steelers . 1:56 remaining 1st half.
On the Dolphins next possession, Wes Welker (ok, time to wake up buddy, seriously) made one of the better cutbacks I have seen in a long time. He caught the ball in the left flank, stopped on a dime, and cut back towards the middle in one lightning quick second, leaving McFadden (I think it was him) in his tracks. I had to tip my hat and applaud for the effort, even though the play put Miami back in Steelers territory. This would be a good time for me to talk about our cornerbacks up to this point. I felt that we were giving way too much cushion at the line of scrimmage, allowing Chambers and Welker to catch the ball on a `hot' route and dash forward for usually at least a 5-8 yard gain. I felt our CBs didn't go after the Miami receivers. Instead, they too often waited for the Miami guy to make the first move before reacting. They didn't allow any huge plays, but they often got decent sized gains because we willingly let them get the first step on us out on the perimeter.
Thankfully, the drive stalled, and the Dolphins were forced to settle for a FG.
Score at Halftime: 14-10 Steelers
Coming up, the 2nd half.