Prior to this afternoon at Heinz Field, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill
had never played a football game in the snow. He is now 1-0 in the white stuff after leading his team to a 34-28 comeback win at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tannehill’s two favorite targets all season long – tight end Charles Clay
and wide receiver Brian Hartline
– made themselves at home at Heinz Field by combining for three touchdown catches, with Clay’s 12-yard highlight reel reception with just under three minutes left in the game giving Miami the lead for the last time. Tannehill ended up completing 20-of-33 passes for 201 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“It was fun,” said Tannehill of winning under these conditions. “It wasn’t too bad. Early in the game the snow was coming down pretty good but the ball felt good all day and you’re warm on the sideline and once you get on the field you feel good. It wasn’t anything where it really affected the game too much besides the footing.”
The Dolphins improve to 7-6 on the season and are very much alive in the race for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC with three games remaining. They return home next Sunday to host the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium.
Running back Daniel Thomas
, returning from a severe ankle injury that almost ended his season, set up Clay’s heroics with a 55-yard run that was the longest of the season by any Miami player. Two plays later, Clay caught the pass from Tannehill in the right flat, fought free of one tackle, broke another tackle by Troy Polamalu and somehow managed to keep his balance and trot into the end zone to give the Dolphins a 31-28 lead.
Miami’s defense responded with a tough stand on Pittsburgh’s next possession and defensive end Olivier Vernon
chased down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from behind on a 4th-and-10 and dragged him down two yards short of the first down. A personal foul penalty on Pittsburgh set up Tannehill and the offense at their 9 and after chewing up some clock, rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis
drilled a 27-yard field goal to force Roethlisberger to have to go for a touchdown in the closing minute plus and no timeouts. Their desperation play with one second left that saw four laterals almost worked but Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds at the Miami 13 before going into the end zone and the defense could exhale.
“It was a ridiculous play and I’m just happy we won,” defensive tackle Jared Odrick
said. “It’s December football and all of these games are crucial so it says a lot about your football team and the kind of football you can play in December. We’re in a position where we are in control of our own destiny and really have to focus on these last few games and stringing a few wins together and getting a playoff berth. That’s what’s on our mind, 1-0 every week.”
Thomas led all rushers with 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and became the primary ball carrier after Lamar Miller
left the game with a concussion. Clay caught seven passes for 98 yards and the two scores to lead all receivers, including a 40-yarder in the first half and Hartline caught five passes for 51 yards and an 18-yard touchdown.
Defensively, the Dolphins sacked Roethlisberger three times, with Cam Wake setting up his team’s first touchdown by forcing a Roethlisberger fumble that was recovered by Randy Starks
at the Pittsburgh 31. He and Olivier Vernon got to Roethlisberger on the final drive, with Vernon getting credit for the sack and safety Jimmy Wilson
deflecting a punt in the first half and now Miami is 5-4 in games that were in the balance in the closing minutes.
“It’s always good to win when you’re behind in the fourth quarter,” Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin said. “We were behind. The guys didn’t panic. I think they scored. There was a period there. We came out had a great drive I believe to start the second half. They answer in four plays, go 83 yards. We throw a pick on second down. And all of a sudden, things could have caved from there, but our guys just kind of stayed in the game and just kept playing. I think they’ve been demonstrating that ability throughout the course of the season.”