STEELERS 30, DOLPHINS 12
Steelers' record: 12-5
One year ago: 11-6
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 14-12
PLAYOFF SERIES HISTORY
These teams have now met three times in the postseason, and before today all of the matchups pitted Don Shula vs. Chuck Noll. Shula won AFC Championship Games over the Steelers in 1972 and 1984; the Steelers won the Divisional Round Game in 1979. Today's Wild Card Round Game evened the postseason series at 2-2.
These teams met in the regular season, and what happened on Oct. 16 at Sun Life Stadium qualifies as one of the Steelers' worst performances of 2016. Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns, the Dolphins possessed the ball for exactly 13 minutes more than the Steelers, and the Steelers were minus-2 in turnover ratio.
"The tape tells the story," said Coach Mike Tomlin about how he dealt with that game when preparing the Steelers for this one. "We're not going to bury our heads or wish it away or pretend that it was lightning strike. Like all of our other video, we own it, we're responsible for it. It's not video that's pleasant to re-visit, but given a week like this and who we're playing it gives us an opportunity to do that. I think that's good for teams, it's good for men. We have to be a legitimately humble, hard-working blue-collar group. Failures provide memories of what you don't want to be and where you've been, and what you've been through to get to where we are. It's been a good week from that perspective, but we measure the quality of weeks based on performance, so check back with me next week, and I'll let you know how the week was."
HOW THE STORYLINE PLAYED OUT
The Steelers defense didn't play the part of the supporting cast in the Jay Ajayi highlight reel this time. Ajayi was held to 33 yards on 16 carries, and his longest run of the afternoon was 8 yards. As a team, the Dolphins finished with 52 yards rushing on 21 carries, and while Matt Moore completed 29-of-36 for 289 yards and a touchdown, the Steelers defense also sacked him five times and finished with three takeaways.
WHITHER THE WEATHER
Temperature at kickoff was 17-degrees, with winds from the west at 16 miles per hour. The wind chill was 2-degrees.
IN THE RECORD BOOK
This was the first playoff game of Le'Veon Bell's NFL career, and he set a Steelers postseason record for rushing yards in a single game with 127 on 29 carries, which worked out to a 5.8 average. The record he broke belonged to Franco Harris, who rushed for 158 yards in winning the Super Bowl IX MVP Award.
FIRST HALF STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Illustrative of how the game unfolded was this dichotomy: Le'Veon Bell had 17 carries for 99 yards, while Ben Roethlisberger attempted only 12 passes. Based on that run-pass percentage, the game was reminiscent of the Steelers' run through the 2005 playoffs.
TURNING POINT, OFFENSIVE VERSION
Joe Greene always referred to it as "setting the tone," and that's exactly what the Steelers did against the Dolphins. After winning the coin toss, the Dolphins elected to defer, which meant the Steelers had to receive the opening kickoff or risk giving the Dolphins the ball to start both halves. Starting at their own 15-yard line after a short return by Fitz Toussaint, the Steelers put the ball into the end zone in just five plays.
On the drive that ended with a 50-yard catch-and-run by Antonio Brown for a touchdown, Le'Veon Bell rushed twice, and Brown caught two passes. On the touchdown play – a quick, wide receiver screen – Jesse James sprung Brown into the open with a block on Tony Lippett, and then Brown ran away from Bacarri Rambo to complete the play and give the Steelers a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game.
TURNING POINT, DEFENSIVE VERSION
The Steelers were holding onto a 20-6 lead late in the first half, but the Dolphins offense was matriculating the ball down the field and seemed to be on the verge of cutting that 14-point lead in half. A 37-yard pass from Matt Moore to DeVante Parker gave the Dolphins a first down at the Steelers 8-yard line with 27 seconds left.
William Gay broke through on the next play for one of his patented sack/strips, and when Stephon Tuitt recovered the fumble at the 13-yard line, the Steelers got into the locker room with their two-touchdown lead intact.
Ryan Shazier on James Harrison: "He's the former Defensive Player of the Year. Nothing surprised me. He's been doing it for a long time for us. He shows everyone the 'Steelers Way,' and you saw that out there today.