By Teresa Varley
Steelers.com The Steelers held off a late surge by the Dolphins to come away with a 30-24 win and keep their slim playoff hopes alive, forcing them to wait on the result of later games to learn their fate.
The black and gold got off to an early lead and never trailed in the game, winning their third straight game to finish out the regular season 9-7.
Ben Roethlisberger, who was injured his right arm late in the game but stayed in, completed 18 of 27 passes for 220 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a quarterback rating of 128.6. The running game came to life with Rashard Mendenhall carrying the ball 20 times for 94 yards and Willie Parker added 12 carries for 91 yards.
The defense came up big with three interceptions, coming at key times to hold off the Dolphins.
"That game right there is a snapshot of how it's been for us," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "But how the guys fought is also a snapshot of how it's been for us. I have said quite a few times over the last several weeks that this is our bed and we got to lay in it.
"It was also us that made the best of a bad situation. Let's be real. There's a lot of teams that are capable of going 6-10 faced with the circumstances this group of men were faced with. They knuckled down and hung together and they did the best of their ability to fix it and won our last three ball games and gave ourselves a chance. We handled our business in here today; did all that we can do. It wasn't easy, it never is. I have a great deal of respect for our football team not only in terms of their closeness but their willingness to fight."
The Steelers got off to a strong start against the Dolphins, moving down the field with precision on the opening drive. After a few short gains, Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace for a 10-yard pickup to move the chains. Former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter got to Roethlisberger for a one-yard sack, but he bounced right back with a completion to Heath Miller who took it down the sideline for a 37-yard gain. Mendenhall went off right guard for a 12-yard gain to the Dolphins 19-yard line and Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for an eight-yard gain. Mendenhall went off right guard for three yards for another third down conversion, and added a two-yard gain to the five-yard line. Roethlisberger then capped the 12-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 6:58 when he hit Santonio Holmes for a five-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.
It wasn't a lead they would hold on to for long as the Dolphins came right back. Ted Ginn took the kickoff at the 17-yard line and returned it 17 yards to the Miami 34-yard line. Ricky Williams took it up the middle for 16-yards to midfield and Chad Henne got them in Steelers territory with a nine-yard completion to Greg Camarillo. Henne added a 10-yard completion to Brian Hartline to the 24-yard line, and got the Dolphins on the board with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Lex Hilliard to tie the game at 7-7.
The Steelers came firing right back. Mendenhall took it for six yards, and after an incompletion Roethlisberger scrambled for a three-yard gain, setting up a fourth-and-one at their 42-yard line. Roethlisberger kept it, getting two yards on the quarterback sneak to keep the drive rolling. Roethlisberger aired it out, hitting a wide-open Wallace in stride for a 54-yard touchdown to go back on top 14-7.
Lousaka Polite got the Dolphins going with a four-yard gain and Pat White came in at quarterback running the wildcat and added three yards. Henne came back in and hit Camarillo for 10 yards and later connected with Davone Bess for 13 yards to the 28-yard line. Henne hit Ginn for six yards and went back to Bess for 13 yards to the 12-yard line. Williams got the Dolphins to the five-yard line with two carries, but on third down Henne couldn't hit Hartline at the goal line. The Dolphins had to settle for a 25-yard Dan Carpenter field goal to cut the Steelers lead to 14-10.
The offense continued to roll for the Steelers. Parker rattled off a 12-yard run and Miller added a nine-yard catch. Roethlisberger was hit by Kendall Langford and the play was originally ruled a nine-yard sack and fumble that Trai Essex recovered. Tomlin challenged the call, and it was reversed, with the ruling an incompletion. Mendenhall took a screen pass down the sideline for 26-yards to the six-yard line. Parker added a two-yard gain, but Jason Taylor tipped the ball away on second down. On third and goal Gibril Wilson broke-up a pass intended for Mewelde Moore, bringing on Jeff Reed for a 22-yard field goal to put the Steelers back up by a touchdown at 17-10.
Deshea Townsend came up with a big play on defense, picking off Henne at the Miami 40-yard line. But they wouldn't hold on to the ball for long. The Steelers attempted some trickery, with Roethlisberger tossing the ball back to Holmes, who aired it out for Mendenhall, but was intercepted by Yeremiah Bell and returned 16 yards to the 23-yard line.
The Dolphins looked to tie the game going into halftime as they moved the ball into Steelers territory, but the defense would have no parts of that. A bad snap went over Henne's head, recovered by Vernon Carey for a nine-yard loss. On third-and-18 LaMarr Woodley sacked Henne for a four-yard loss, forcing the Dolphins to punt and sending the Steelers into the half up by a touchdown.
White started the second half at quarterback for the Dolphins for Henne, who suffered an eye injury, and they were shutdown fast. Williams went up the middle for four yards and White was stopped for a one-yard gain. On third-and-five Lawrence Timmons came through the line untouched, leveling White for a nine-yard sack.
For the first time in the game the Steelers were stopped on offense, going three-and-out and bringing on Dan Sepulveda for his first punt of the game.
The defense came up with another big stop and Roethlisberger went to work deep in his own territory at the 10-yard line. A facemask call gave them breathing room and on third down Roethlisberger scrambled for 13. Roethlisberger hit Ward for a 13-yard gain and Mendenhall got loose for a 36-yard gain to the six-yard line. Roethlisberger capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to Miller, who kept his feet inbounds at the back end of the end zone, for a 24-10 lead.
A fired up defense shutdown the Dolphins on consecutive one-yard gains, and on third down White was hit one-yard shy of the first down. White was injured on the play when hit by Ike Taylor, and after lying motionless for a few moments had some movement but was taken off the field on a cart.
Stefan Logan gave the Steelers great field position on the ensuing punt thanks to a 22-yard return to the Steelers 46-yard line. A pass interference call gave the Steelers the ball on the 25-yard line. Mendenhall took it for five yards and Ward added a nine-yard reception to the Dolphins 11-yard line. Miller took it to the five-yard line on a short completion and Mendenhall got it to the three-yard line. On third down, Mendenhall wasn't able to pull in the short reception and Reed was called upon for a 21-yard field goal to extend the lead to 27-10.
Tyler Thigpen replaced White at quarterback and hit Ginn for an eight-yard completion. Polite picked up a first down with a two-yard run to move the chains. A defensive holding call gave the Dolphins a first down, and they got another with a 14-yard completion to Anthony Fasano. A pass interference call on William Gay gave the Dolphins the ball on the 16-yard line. Hartline got the hand off on the end around and got free for a 16-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 27-17.
The Steelers weren't able to go anywhere on their next drive as Roethlisberger was sacked for a 10-yard loss. A six-yard completion to Ward and eight-yard toss to Moore weren't enough to make up the lost yardage, forcing a quick three-and-out.
Thigpen continued with a hot hand, hitting Fasano for a 27-yard gain. Thigpen then went to Bess, who was open for a 34-yard touchdown, pulling the Dolphins within a field goal at 27-24 and putting 14 points on the board in 2:47.
Mendenhall was held to two short gains on the ensuing drive, and on third down Roethlisberger, who was injured on the play, was sacked and fumbled, which Porter recovered at the 13-yard line. The defense responded, though, when Ryan Clark intercepted Thigpen at the two-yard line.
Roethlisberger came back onto the field for the next series and while appearing to be in pain, delivered with a five-yard completion to Ward and went right back to him for 13 yards. It was then up to Parker to run time off the clock and move the chains, as he got them down to the eight-yard line with a 34-yard run. The Steelers had to settle for a 33-yard Reed field goal, extending the lead to 30-24 with just 40 seconds to play.
The Dolphins got the ball back with one last shot at winning, but Taylor intercepted Thigpen to secure the win.