PITTSBURGH—A stunning season in which the Dolphins surged from 1-4 to a playoff berth ended harshly in the bitter cold this afternoon.
The Steelers rocked Miami from the onset and rolled to a 30-12 win in their AFC wild-card game at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh goes on to face Kansas City, and the Dolphins go home to start working on next year’s roster.
Here are five quick takeaways from today’s loss:
1. This result doesn’t matter.
While the Dolphins would’ve enjoyed a playoff victory and the right to advance, the most important thing about this season is that they’re on the right track. It’s been a long time, probably eight years, since the fan base had good cause to believe its team was moving in the right direction long term. A 10-6 opening season by Adam Gase with a battered roster in his first year is promising for the big picture.
2. Miami’s defensive line didn’t do much.
For most of the season, the $40 million group up front helped cover up all the instability behind it. That didn’t happen today. Ndamukong Suh got manhandled at times by Pittsburgh right guard David DeCastro. Defensive ends Cameron Wake and Andre Branch were rarely a threat to Ben Roethlisberger. Miami’s first sack came when Suh got to him midway through the third quarter.
3. Antonio Brown was unstoppable.
Brown could have checked out after the first eight minutes and still been satisfied with his stat line: three catches, 119 yards, two touchdowns. Miami cornerback Tony Lippett, normally a backup but thrust into a starting role with Byron Maxwell injured, couldn’t keep up with Brown. He didn’t get much help behind him, either, with Bacarri Rambo missing a tackle on Brown’s second score. He put up 124 yards on five catches against a secondary missing Maxwell and both starting safeties.
4. There was one opening to get back in this game, and Matt Moore blew it.
After falling behind 14-0 early, Miami had a window for a comeback late in the second quarter. Michael Thomas’ interception set up a drive that got the Dolphins to Pittsburgh’s eight-yard line with 27 seconds left, but Moore coughed up a turnover when James Harrison sacked him from the blindside. Miami pushed to the Steelers’ 37 on its first possession of the third quarter, then Moore fumbled while banging into Jay Ajayi.
5. Speaking of Ajayi, where was he?
The season of hot and cold continued for Ajayi, who put up the third-best rushing season in franchise history but got nearly 60 percent of that total in four games. He also had six games where he failed to get at least four yards per carry, and this one can go on that list as well. He managed six yards on his first six tries and finished with 16 rushes for 33 yards.
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