The Steelers resume football after two weeks off thanks to a bye. With The Ravens idle, they saw both the Browns and Bengals drop their games, so they can move into sole possession of second place in the AFC North with a win over the Dolphins, and move two games back behind Baltimore at 3-4.
They have gotten a number of injured players back from injury, most notably Mason Rudolph, who missed the last game out with a concussion. Also back is James Washington, and Steven Nelson as well. T.J. Watt is also dressing. Arguably the most notables among the actives of non-injured players would be Donte Moncrief dressing–all six receivers dressing. Isaiah Buggs also dresses over L.T. Walton.
The Steelers kicked off to begin the game. Watt made the first tackle for a stop on the ground on first and 10. Ryan Fitzpatrick misfired out of bounds to set up a third and eight. He essentially threw the ball away, under pressure, on third down. Ryan Switzer was barely able to work his way back to where he originally fielded the punt.
Beginning on the ground, James Conner was stopped after a gain of one. After a false start penalty, Mason Rudolph threw an interception on second and 14 looking for JuJu Smith-Schuster near the sticks. There should have been a defensive holding penalty.
Quickly from the 26, Vince Williams chased down the back for no gain on first down. Fitzpatrick found a receiver inside the 10 on second down. Now first and goal, a wildcat run from Ballage was held to two yards. And then he found Albert Wilson for a five-yard score motioning across the field with nobody following, as the Steelers fall behind early 7-0 after forcing a three-and-out by the defense.
Nix’s first offensive snap of the season led to a 25-yard run by Conner across midfield to begin the Steelers’ second possession. But he lost a yard behind the fullback working to the right side on the next play. Rudolph had his second pass attempt batted at the line of scrimmage to set up a third and 11. Rudolph had to check down to McDonald under pressure for a five-yard gain, but an illegal use of hands on the defense gave Pittsburgh a first down.
Rudolph floated a pass out to the sideline for Moncrief, just incomplete, dragging the receiver out of bounds. A first-down completion to Benny Snell was wiped out by a holding call. On second and 20, Rudolph chucked up a jump ball, which went off the hands of Washington for another interception, this clearly a drop by the wide receiver, but a very rough start for the quarterback in his first action since the concussion. After automatic review, however, it was determined that the defender’s foot was out of bounds when he secured possession, resulting in just an incompletion, making it third and 20. He threw underneath to McDonald for about 14. On fourth and six, Rudolph threw behind Washington for an incompletion. The play was there to be made, but he missed the throw.
A quick catch and tackle for seven yards following the turnover on downs. At the 44, Mark Walton got three on the ground. A false start by the center made it first and 15. A short five-yard pass to the tight end to make it second and 10. Bud Dupree beat the pulling blocker for a loss, but Fitzpatrick found DeVante Parker for the first down on third and 14.
Walton picked up seven up the middle to the 35. Williams gave them a new set of downs approaching the red zone. Nelson had good coverage on an incompletion down the left sideline. Fitzpatrick found Williams again for the first in front of Joe Haden. Allen Hurns forced about three missed tackles inside the five for another touchdown, starting with Devin Bush. Ugly tackling effort by the defense.
Conner was upended after a couple yards on the first play of the third drive. Rudolph tripped on the handoff but was able to get it out to Conner, who picked up seven to get a first down. A third straight run for Conner gets four to end the first quarter. Rudolph took a deep shot down the field to Smith-Schuster, but it was a little short, a jump ball incomplete. Rudolph did a great job of getting the ball out to Conner under pressure, picking up a first down.
Snell got about five to the left end to midfield. He is stopped for a yard on second down. Rudolph tried to stand tall in the pocket but had the ball stripped from his grasp. The Steelers recovered, but would have to punt.
After a couple of quick first downs to get out past midfield, Mike Hilton got a hand on a swing pass to stop some momentum. Walton got about four to set up third and six. Fitzpatrick was stopped on the play, I guess considered a sack. Switzer, injured on the last return, was back out there. The punt dropped dead at the six.
Conner was ripped down for a loss on first down. Rudolph checked down to Nix for another loss off play action. Now third and 12 from the four, he did complete to Diontae Johnson for a first down. A quick handoff gave Conner a path up the middle for about eight. He shuffled and then got himself going forward for another nice gain for a first down and more to the 41.
It’s another throw to the fullback off play action, this time getting a few. On second and six, Snell was limited to a yard. He took a shot down the left sideline and connected with Smith-Schuster to the 25. But he threw high to Conner on a checkdown on the next play, a bit scary in open field. Now second down, Conner was limited to a yard on the ground. On third and nine, Johnson slipped out of his cut, resulting in an incompletion. Chris Boswell got the Steelers on the board with a field goal, finally, 14-3.
Watt was docked for neutral zone infraction on third and four, giving the Dolphins a free first down. After the two-minute warning, Ballage was wrapped up after a few yards from the 40. Minkah Fitzpatrick was able to rob his former team with his second interception with the Steelers off a deflection.
Now at the 50, Rudolph had to check down under pressure for a short gain. A false start negated that gain, making it second and 12. That also took away a timeout to avoid a 10-second runoff. Now with 51 seconds and one timeout from the 48, Rudolph was incomplete to Washington on a dangerous throw as he took a hit. DPI could have been called. On third down, he found Smith-Schuster for another big conversion. From the 35, Rudolph hit Johnson down the field, but the receiver was called for pass interference. Given all the contact allowed so far this night, that really didn’t need to be called. As it was within two minutes, the booth reviewed the penalty, but it stood as called.
Back to the 45 now, Moncrief got a shot down the field, but the ball wasn’t catchable in tight coverage down the left sideline. Rudolph again narrowly avoided a sack just to throw the ball away on second down. On third and 20, needing yardage to get into field goal range, the Dolphins inexplicably rushed eight, leaving Johnson running free on a slant and able to get into the end zone with some downfield blocking, now a 14-10 game with Pittsburgh getting the ball after halftime.