After Ben Roethlisberger fumbled at the goal line late in the fourth quarter — and before referee Gene Steratore came out from under the review hoodie to weigh in — I got a call from my buddy Andy.
“Did he score?”
“Nope,” I said before adding, “The thing is, the side judge (or whoever) signaled touchdown so fast who the hell knows who actually recovered the ball.”
And when Steratore finally offered his explanation, he said as much. It was a weird turn of events but not wholly unexpected given the foreshadowing above. Hey, shit happens, and this time it favored the Steelers. That said, I’m sure this is somehow James Harrison’s fault, and he will rightly be fined $75,000 for the transgression. But in the meantime, Skippy converted the 19-yard field goal, giving the Steelers the 23-22 lead, and four plays later, Pittsburgh heads to New Orleans 5-1.
To the South Beach highlights…
* Pittsburgh lost the turnover battle and yet still managed to eke out a victory on the road. Front and center: Manny Sanders had a rough start but recovered nicely. I mentioned it during last week’s Steelers Lounge podcast: subbing Antonio Brown for Sanders is all well and good until he fumbles a return. That took about five seconds Sunday. But Manny had a big third-down conversion — just like last week — but more than that, he had two huge returns, the last setting up the game-winning field goal. I’d prefer avoiding that trade-off every week, but if the bottom line is a Steelers win then, well … bring it on.
* Following Sanders’ miscue and Big Ben’s fumble-pass that gave the Dolphins six quick points, it’s was nice to see the Steelers offense go to the no-huddle. We’ve been begging for it for a couple years now, and Ben, even with a month off, had little trouble running it efficiently. I can’t say enough about the job Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch did during the first four weeks, but what Ben brings to the table is immeasurable. Yes, he holds onto the ball too long, and yes, he takes a lot of hits, but we long ago accepted those shortcomings.
The thing is, the offensive line is — and I feel weird even saying this — vastly improved from 2009 and 2008. Maurkice Pouncey has something to do with that, but Pittsburgh is without Willie Colon — and Flozell Adams for most of Sunday — which means that Sean Kugler probably deserves some kind of award.
* The Steelers’ running game wasn’t a factor in Miami but, ironically, Mewelde More had his best effort of the season. During the preseason, when we all thought Jonathan Dwyer would get cut, Gretz made the case for dropping Moore for Dwyer on the grounds that Dwyer had more long-term potential. I thought it was a crazy notion at the time, but after watching Moore muddle his way through the first five games, Gretz might have been onto something. Well, it took seven weeks, but MeMo finally showed his worth. Good timing, dude.
* The Steelers’ defense had two extremely short fields to start the game. And both times they surrendered a field goal. That’s the difference between being a good team and a Super Bowl contender. Six-0 isn’t concerning. 14-0 and Pittsburgh probably loses.
* JJ mentioned in on Steelers Lounge Podcast #10, but Doug Legursky, who got his fourth consecutive start at right guard in place of injured Trai Essex, had some issues pass-blocking against the Browns last week. A lot of the same — at least early — against the Dolphins. He had two holding penalties in the first quarter, although he appeared to settle down after that. (To be fair, I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to Legursky, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until JJ tells me otherwise.)
* I can’t blame the Dolphins for blitzing Roethlisberger to begin the game since he’s only been back a week, but it’s nice to see Big Ben stand tall in the pocket and deliver accurately under pressure. He did it a few times, but the pitch and catch to Hines Wards for six points stands out. First because Ben recognized the defense and got rid of the ball, but mostly for Hines’ after-the-catch effort to get into the end zone.
* Random observation: no idea what the Steelers were doing at the end of the first half. After a great catch by Hines to get the Steelers into Dolphins territory, Bruce Arians has a relapse and tried a Mike Wallace end-around that was so ill-conceived that Wallace didn’t even touch the ball. A play later, Ben takes a sack, and with timeouts and more than 10 seconds on the clock, the Steelers headed to the locker room. Puzzling.
* When I first saw rookie Jason Worilds in the game late in the second quarter, I wondered if the Steelers were just giving LaMarr Woodley a breather because of the South Florida heat. Turned out, Woodley tweaked a hammy and didn’t return. Worilds had a rough first series, and the Steelers ended up taking him out, moving Juan Timmons to outside linebacker, and bringing Larry Foote in to play inside. But Worilds saw a lot of snaps in the second half, and he was responsible for forcing Chad Henne into an end-of-game pick. (Okay, it was an incomplete pass, but Pittsburgh actually lost field position on the Deebo interception. Let’s call it a wash.) In between, Worilds looked … well, raw.
Not surprising, really, but maybe a concern if Woodley’s injury lingers. Even more so if Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel aren’t available next week against the Saints. But as Mike Tomlin likes to say: if a guy goes down, he expects his backup to step in and perform. It’s one thing to say that against the Dolphins. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out next week — even a Saints team that got housed by the Browns.
Whatever. For now, the Steelers are 5-1, and start a three-game road trip with a win. We’ll take it.
* One more thing: as usual, we’ll be podcasting it up tonight. Feel free to leave questions or comments for the show here.