MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT
Dolphins 21, Steelers 17
Dec. 31, 1972 at Three Rivers Stadium
In the first non-single wing (1947), non-consolation (1962) and non-Immaculate Reception (1972) playoff game in team history, the Steelers came closer than anyone else to stopping the Dolphins in the playoffs. The Steelers took a 7-0 lead in this conference championship came but Larry Seiple ran 37 yards with a fake punt to set up Earl Morrall's tying touchdown pass to Larry Csonka. The Steelers took a 10-7 third-quarter lead, but Bob Griese, in for Morrall, hit Paul Warfield with a 52-yard pass to set up a short Jim Kiick touchdown run. Kiick scored a second touchdown before Al Young caught a 12-yard TD pass from Terry Bradshaw to cut the Dolphins' lead to 21-17 with 5:21 remaining. Bradshaw got the ball back at his 45 with 3:21 remaining but was sacked and then intercepted by Nick Buoniconti. A final possession by Bradshaw ended with another interception by another linebacker, Mike Kolen, with 33 seconds left and the Dolphins went on to record the last perfect season in NFL history.
TALE OF THE TAPE
"Mike Pouncey is not playing for them and that changes everything on their offensive line. There's something about having an athletic, tough, passionate center to lead an offensive line. The other thing is that our offensive line is a lot better than the last time these two teams played. They kept collapsing the pocket on us. Andre Branch, Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh played really, really well. Part of it was our guys wilted in the heat and part of it was the crowd noise. Neither one of those things is going to happen on Sunday. There's also the motivation of playing really bad. When you play that same team again, and you watch the tape, you're getting chewed out for the same things you got chewed out for in Week 6 all over again. You see that and your pride really starts getting to you. They're also missing their two safeties. Reshad Jones was really, really good. They're just not the same team, and I haven't even gotten to Matt Moore yet. Ben (Roethlisberger) hurt his knee in that game and really struggled after that. I just see this as a better game for us." -- Steelers Radio analyst Tunch Ilkin.
Can the Steelers stop Jay Ajayi?
Ajayi rushed for more yardage -- 204 -- against the Steelers than anyone in the last 16 years. Of course, the Steelers didn't have James Harrison, Bud Dupree or Sean Davis in the starting lineup, Ryan Shazier was out with an injury, and Artie Burns was the third cornerback off the bench. The Steelers are healthier and their rookies are playing better. And with Harrison replacing Jarvis Jones in the lineup they are much better against the run in their nickel, which will be the primary alignment used to stop the Dolphins three outstanding wide receivers.
THREE QUESTIONS: With DE JAMES HARRISON
Q: After you moved into the starting lineup for good, you won a game ball and spoke to the team. You dedicated the ball and the rest of the season to your late father. Have you felt his presence, spiritually, this season?
JH: "To be honest with you, I feel like my father's with me every day. And to be honest, I really can't believe he's gone. There are certain situations and scenarios that come up that I want to call him, and I can't. But I feel him there every day."
Q: Ben Roethlisberger also stood up after a game and spoke to the team with his "Follow Me" speech. You and Ben are the veteran leaders and seem to have grown closer over the years. Is that true?
JH: "I wouldn't say we've grown any closer. I think you guys are just starting to see it more. There's a lot more social media going on out there these days."
Q: But it is a unique relationship, isn't it?
JH: "Well we're kind of the old heads, too, right now, so there's a lot more history there."
What to look for from the Steelers at 1:05 p.m. today at Heinz Field:
The Dolphins are without the safeties -- Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus -- who started against the Steelers in Week 6, and even replacement Bacarri Rambo is questionable with a chest injury. He's expected to play alongside journeyman Michael Thomas. The Dolphins' top cornerback, Byron Maxwell, is doubtful with an ankle injury. He'll likely be replaced by 6-1 rookie Xavien Howard, who's allowed a QB rating of 104.6 on passes against him this season. Two weeks ago, Howard was primarily responsible for Sammy Watkins amassing 154 yards on seven catches. Howard will be opposite former college WR Tony Lippett, a 6-2 1/2 second-year pro who's also questionable with a thigh injury. Needless to say, the tall, inexperienced cornerbacks will have a difficult time covering Antonio Brown. The Dolphins do have an adequate slot corner in Bobby McCain and they expect to get their coverage linebacker, Jelani Jenkins, back after missing four of the last five games. His primary responsibility will be Le'Veon Bell.
The Dolphins' replacement quarterback is 32-year-old Matt Moore, who has a career passer rating of 82.0. But since leaving Carolina for Miami, and starting 12 games for the Dolphins in two different seasons, Moore has a passer rating of 96.9. And in three starts and a quarter of action this season, his passer rating is 105.6. Moore replaced the injured Ryan Tannehill late against Arizona and led the Dolphins to a game-winning field goal, and then wins over the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills before losing to New England last week. His three interceptions occurred when he's been forced away from his primary receiver. But stopping Jay Ajayi and covering Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DaVante Parker won't be an easy task for the Steelers.
Everything's pointing in the Steelers' direction here: weather, home field, revenge as motivation, health, and experience at quarterback. But, again, stopping the Miami offense won't be as easy as stopping most units that are led by backup quarterbacks. Remember, it was Earl Morrall who led the Dolphins through the bulk of their undefeated 1972 season. Then again, they needed Bob Griese to come off the bench to beat the Steelers in the playoffs. Steelers, 30-17.
BY THE NUMBERS
8: Number of Steelers who've played in a Super Bowl.
12: Number of Dolphins who've played in a playoff game.
16: Years since the Dolphins last won a playoff game, 23-17 over the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 30, 2000.
32: Years since the Dolphins met the Steelers in the playoffs. Dan Marino's team won 45-28 to advance to the Super Bowl in 1985.
83: Temperature in Miami when the Dolphins departed for Pittsburgh.
* Before the Week 6 game, Mike Tomlin said one of the keys would be "hidden yardage" on special teams, and the Dolphins had better net punting (38.5 to 30.8), a better average starting point after kickoffs (25 to 23) and a better average starting point overall (37 to 23). PK Andrew Franks' 16-for-21 field-goal percentage is the Dolphins' weakest area on special teams.
* He was "A Boy Named Suh" when he was the second pick of the 2010 draft, but Ndamukong Suh just turned 30 this week and he's now "The Man Child called Suh," said Steelers guard Ramon Foster.
The Dolphins left defensive tackle is a four-time first-team All-Pro and makes more money than any defensive player in league history ($114 million contract). Although, he does have a reputation as a dirty player. Is he similar to Vontaze Burfict?
"No comparison," Foster said. "I think Suh's out there just trying to win. He's been on teams before that have struggled, and I don't think his antics have been this bad since he's been with Miami. I think his fire has been more or less about him wanting to win and trying to lead guys and doing it in a different fashion compared to the guy in Cincinnati."
* Darrius Heyward-Bey made the play of the game for the Steelers in their loss to the Dolphins. He took an end-around 60 yards for a touchdown, the longest Steelers run of the season. But offensive coordinator Todd Haley thinks Heyward-Bey's hustle play last Sunday, when he forced a fumble at the Pittsburgh 1 to prevent Briean Boddy-Calhoun from completing a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"Causing the fumble on the interception, I thought, was a legendary play that I hope doesn't get lost because of the meaning of the game," Haley said. "Man, what a play and what a job he's done for us, and we're happy he's healthy and back."
"That's nice of him saying that," said Heyward-Bey. "I was just doing my job. I was doing what had to be done in that situation."
Heyward-Bey also made catch for 46 yards to set up a fourth-quarter touchdown. It was the first game in which Heyward-Bey's been targeted since injuring his foot Nov. 6 at Baltimore. His return finally provides the Steelers with a deep threat opposite Antonio Brown.
"I'm all go," said Heyward-Bey. "Whatever they need me to do, I'm willing to do."
* Ladarius Green is questionable while still in the concussion protocol, but Heyward-Bey and even Sammie Coates are healthy to bolster the Steelers' No. 2 WR spot. Of course, there's also the guy who made last week's game-winning touchdown catch, Cobi Hamilton, giving the Steelers have a full arsenal of wide receivers. And that includes slot receiver Eli Rogers.
The first-year player led the Steelers last Sunday with six catches for 61 yards and has 18 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown in the last four games.
"He's a smart guy," said Haley. "Something I told him early on was 'You better stop worrying about what I think and start worrying about what the quarterback thinks.' He's always right up to (Ben Roethlisberger), looking him in the eye and trying to glean any kind of information he can that can help him create even more continuity between the two of them. It's a different position than the other wideout positions when you're in there. There's so much feel involved."
* Haley met with reporters on Thursday and as the group was gathering in the indoor practice facility his eyes popped wide when he noticed snow flurries swirling inside.
The next day, the indoor facility was even colder with the fans still sucking the outside air in and the air conditioners blazing with the garage doors open. Mike Tomlin was overheard congratulating facilities coordinator Bob McCartney for a job well done.
"Acclimation is a pretty good deal this time of year," said defensive coordinator Keith Butler. "Everybody is talking about the old Steelers and running the football, being able to stop the run. Well, this is the reason. It gets cold like this and the ball doesn’t fly around very well. So we have to stop the run, we have to be able to run and we have to take our shots with our key guys, and we’ll see what happens."
"You never know which one it is, but every play matters. One play could send you home, so you've got to have attention to detail." -- Steelers FS Mike Mitchell.