And the Steelers, as a result, moved a step closer to reassembling their once-broken season.
They had to erase an early two-touchdown deficit and endure some boos by their home crowd at Heinz Field for their sluggish start on offense. But they persevered and scored 27 straight points to prevail, 27-14, and keep the tanking allegations against the Dolphins in play.
“Our defense continued to play great football, giving us turnovers, giving us opportunities,” Rudolph told ESPN afterward. “We just kept working. This group has a lot of leadership. We’re not out of it just because of a turnover early in the game. We’re gonna keep fighting. We’re gonna keep coming back. I thought we put together a lot of good drives there at the end.”
Rudolph threw touchdown passes to wide receivers Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Tailback James Conner added a touchdown run as part of his 145-yard rushing performance before he exited the game late with a shoulder injury, the severity of which was not immediately clear. The Steelers improved to 3-4 with their second straight win.
It has been a season in which little has gone as scripted for the Steelers. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent season-ending elbow surgery. The team’s addition-by-subtraction plan following the offseason exits of tailback Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown was a bust. Rudolph, starting in place of Roethlisberger, suffered a concussion on a scary hit by Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas and the Steelers had to turn temporarily to third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges.
But they’ve kept things from unraveling completely and they’re back within a game of .500 as their season nears the midway point.
Rudolph’s first pass Monday was intercepted. The Steelers failed on a fourth-down attempt and had to recover a fumble by Rudolph on a sack before punting. But they turned things around in the second quarter, pulling within 14-10 on Johnson’s 45-yard catch and run for a touchdown on a third-and-20 play 17 seconds before halftime.
“You’ve got to move on,” Rudolph said. “You’ve got to clear the slate and play the next play. I thought I did that and I thought we did that as an offense. You’ve got to play the next play and have a short memory.”
Johnson’s long touchdown just before the half changed the tone of the game. The Dolphins had only themselves to blame for a questionable defensive approach. They blitzed Rudolph and didn’t get to him, and they left Johnson wide open in the middle of the field while giving extra attention in the secondary to Smith-Schuster.
“It was really soft coverage, pretty much cover zero across the board and they doubled JuJu,” Rudolph said. “So he [Smith-Schuster] makes his plays and he also makes plays for other guys.”
From there, the Steelers never looked back as they extended their home winning streak on “Monday Night Football” to 18 games.
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, traded to the Steelers as part of the Dolphins’ dismantling, had two interceptions against his former team. Both led to Pittsburgh touchdowns. Conner’s touchdown came after the Steelers won an instant replay challenge in the final seconds of the third quarter, overturning the on-field ruling that Ryan Fitzpatrick had gotten a first down for the Dolphins on a fourth-and-one quarterback keeper. The replay ruling came after a lengthy delay and enraged Dolphins Coach Brian Flores, who vented his displeasure to the on-field officials.
The Steelers had been the only NFL team without a successful replay challenge since the start of the 2017 season, according to ESPN, despite the fact that Coach Mike Tomlin is a member of the league’s rule-making competition committee.
The Dolphins dropped to 0-7 amid the tanking accusations that have accompanied their trades of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills, Minkah Fitzpatrick and running back Kenyan Drake to stockpile draft choices. They’ve gotten close to winning in recent weeks, with a failed two-point conversion that would have beaten the Washington Redskins and a lost fourth-quarter lead in Buffalo.
Things looked promising Monday when Fitzpatrick threw first-quarter touchdown passes to wide receivers Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns. But this is the 2019 Dolphins. And, whether by design or not, they moved a step closer to a 0-16 season and the top overall selection in the 2020 draft.
Another FG for Steelers: Make it 27 straight points for the Steelers. They got a 41-yard field goal by kicker Chris Boswell after recovering a fumble by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a sack. (Steelers 27, Dolphins 14 with 5:32 left in the 4th quarter)
TD run for Conner: The Steelers extended their lead with a nine-yard touchdown run by tailback James Conner. They moved 53 yards after the Dolphins turned the ball over on a failed fourth-down try, thanks to an instant replay reversal on the spot of the football that angered Miami’s coach, Brian Flores. The Steelers have scored 24 straight points since facing an early two-touchdown deficit. (Steelers 24, Dolphins 14 with 12:01 left in the 4th quarter)
Steelers win replay challenge!: The Steelers won an instant replay challenge of the spot of the football to overturn an on-field ruling that Ryan Fitzpatrick had gotten a first down for the Dolphins on a fourth-and-one quarterback keeper in the final seconds of the third quarter. The Steelers take possession of the ball. They had been the only NFL team without a successful replay challenge since the start of the 2017 season, according to ESPN, even though Coach Mike Tomlin is a member of the league’s competition committee. Dolphins Coach Brian Flores was upset on the sideline about the replay ruling, which came after a lengthy delay, and expressed his displeasure to the on-field officials. Former NFL referee John Parry, now ESPN’s rules analyst, said on the broadcast that he agreed with the change but would have liked to have seen the replay process go quicker. (Steelers 17, Dolphins 14 with 18 seconds left in the 3rd quarter)
Steelers take lead on Smith-Schuster TD: The Steelers have rallied to take the lead over the winless Dolphins with 17 straight points. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster made an excellent leaping catch of a throw by Mason Rudolph for a 26-yard touchdown. That capped a 97-yard drive following safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s second interception of the night against his former team. Both of Fitzpatrick’s interceptions have led to Steelers’ touchdowns. Rudolph has two touchdown passes in what has become a surprisingly entertaining game. Rudolph, playing in his first game since suffering a concussion on a scary hit by Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas, kept playing after absorbing a legal helmet-to-helmet hit while running with the ball on that drive. (Steelers 17, Dolphins 14 with 3:16 left in the 3rd quarter)
Second interception for Fitzpatrick: Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, traded by the Dolphins during their selloff, had his second interception of the night against his former team. This came on a deep pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick, essentially serving as a 53-yard punt for the Dolphins. (Dolphins 14, Steelers 10 with 11:03 left in the 3rd quarter)
First miss of season for Boswell: Steelers kicker Chris Boswell missed a 54-yard field goal try that would have gotten Pittsburgh to within a point. It was the first miss of the season for Boswell on his 13th field goal attempt. (Dolphins 14, Steelers 10 with 11:23 left in the 3rd quarter)
Halftime at Heinz Field: The Dolphins are winless and have faced tanking allegations after trading away left tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and running back Kenyan Drake to stockpile draft picks. But they’ve been close to winning in recent weeks, failing on a two-point conversion that would have beaten the Washington Redskins and squandering a fourth-quarter lead in Buffalo, and they have a 14-10 halftime lead Monday night in Pittsburgh. It was 14-0 in the first quarter as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw touchdown passes to wide receivers Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns. That was the Dolphins’ biggest lead of the season. At that point, it appeared that the Dolphins might have to make more trades at halftime if they wanted to avoid winning this one. The Pittsburgh offense was off to a shaky start and was being booed by the Heinz Field crowd. Quarterback Mason Rudolph had his first pass of the night intercepted and had another interception nullified by an instant replay review. The Steelers failed on a fourth-down try and recovered a fumble by Rudolph on a sack. But the game turned in the second quarter and the Steelers scored 10 straight points. Kicker Chris Boswell connected on a 42-yard field goal and the Steelers got a 45-yard touchdown pass from Rudolph to wide receiver Diontae Johnson on a third-and-20 play 17 seconds before halftime. The Dolphins brought a blitz that didn’t get to Rudolph and left Johnson wide open in the middle of the field. That long touchdown might have prevented another NFL officiating controversy because just before that, the Steelers had a 34-yard completion to Johnson nullified by a bad call of offensive pass interference against Johnson. He was flagged for a very light pushoff and the call was allowed to stand on an instant replay review. Minkah Fitzpatrick had an interception of a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass to set up the touchdown. (Dolphins 14, Steelers 10 at halftime)
Long TD gets Steelers back in game: The boos at Heinz Field turned to cheers and the Steelers got back into the game with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph to wide receiver Diontae Johnson on a third-and-20 play just before halftime. The Dolphins brought a blitz, didn’t get to Rudolph and left Johnson wide open in the middle of the field on a slant pattern. He caught Rudolph’s on-target throw and sprinted to the end zone. That came soon after the Steelers had a 34-yard completion from Rudolph to Johnson to the Miami 1-yard line negated by a bad call made on Johnson for offensive pass interference. Johnson was penalized for the lightest of pushoffs and the call was allowed to stand after a replay review. (Dolphins 14, Steelers 10 with 17 seconds left in the 2nd quarter)
Fitzpatrick intercepts Fitzpatrick: Minkah Fitzpatrick, the safety traded to Pittsburgh as part of the Dolphins’ dismantling, got an interception against his former team by grabbing a deflected pass thrown by Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Steelers have a chance to get a closer before halftime. (Dolphins 14, Steelers 3 with 1:13 left in the 2nd quarter)
Steelers get on the board: The Pittsburgh offense, after being booed by the Heinz Field crowd during this ugly first half, finally got moving. Mason Rudolph managed some completions, pushing his passer rating for the night up from 0.0 to 29.8, and the Steelers moved 70 yards before stalling and settling for a 42-yard field goal by kicker Chris Boswell. He has connected on all 12 of his field goal attempts this season. (Dolphins 14, Steelers 3 with 2:45 left in the 2nd quarter)
Boos for Pittsburgh offense: The offense of the Steelers is hearing some boos at Heinz Field. The Steelers just punted after recovering a fumble by quarterback Mason Rudolph on a third-down sack. Rudolph has thrown one interception, had another interception negated by an instant replay review and fumbled on a sack. The Steelers have one turnover, failed on a fourth-down attempt and trail the winless Dolphins by two touchdowns in the second quarter. (Dolphins 14, Steelers 0 with 12:11 left in the 2nd quarter)
Big lead (relatively speaking) for the Dolphins: The Dolphins have their biggest lead of the season. They’re ahead of the Steelers, 14-0, in the opening quarter after the second touchdown pass of the night thrown by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. This one was a 12-yarder to wide receiver Allen Hurns to cap a 63-yard drive following the Steelers’ failed fourth-down attempt. (Dolphins 14, Steelers 0 with 1:34 left in the 1st quarter)
Shaky start for Rudolph: It has been a shaky start to the game for Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph. He nearly threw his second interception of the night but was spared when Dolphins cornerback Ryan Lewis was ruled on an instant replay review to have had one foot out of bounds, with a toe on the line, while grabbing a deflected pass. Given that reprieve, Rudolph and the Steelers failed to take advantage. Coach Mike Tomlin left his offense on the field for a fourth-and-six try from the Miami 37-yard line. But Rudolph made an off-target throw behind wide receiver James Washington for an incompletion and a turnover on downs. (Dolphins 7, Steelers 0 with 7:34 left in the 1st quarter)
Early lead for Miami: The winless Dolphins have an early lead in Pittsburgh, converting an interception thrown by Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph into a touchdown. The Dolphins had to move only 26 yards after the turnover, scoring on a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to wide receiver Albert Wilson. Rudolph, back in the Steelers’ lineup after missing a game because a concussion, had his first pass of the night intercepted by Miami cornerback Xavien Howard. Rudolph had pass-rush pressure in his face and didn’t get enough on his sideline throw toward wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. (Dolphins 7, Steelers 0 with 10:55 left in the 1st quarter)
Not much has gone the Pittsburgh Steelers’ way so far this season. The Steelers lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to season-ending elbow surgery. Their addition-by-subtraction plan following the offseason exits of running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown has been a bust. There has been speculation — without corroboration, to this point — that Coach Mike Tomlin could be a target of the Washington Redskins’ head coaching search.
But if the Steelers simply take care of business Monday night and prevail at home against the winless Miami Dolphins, things actually will be looking up for them for a change in 2019. That would give them a two-game winning streak and a not-completely-dismal record of 3-4 as their season nears its midway point.
The Steelers are coming off their bye week. That followed a home-away-from-home triumph over the Chargers, with many Steelers fans on hand in Los Angeles. The victory over the Chargers was orchestrated by third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges, with fill-in starter Mason Rudolph sidelined after suffering a concussion on a hit by Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas. Rudolph returns to the lineup Monday.