PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell spent the last two Januarys watching helplessly while the Pittsburgh Steelers tried to make a deep postseason run without him. The ever fluid running back made up for lost time Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
So did Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the other members of Pittsburgh’s “Big Three” together in the playoffs for the first time.
Pounding away relentless at a defense that hardly seemed interested in stopping him at frigid Heinz Field, Bell ran for a franchise postseason record 167 yards and two scores . The Steelers overwhelmed the beaten-up and mistake-prone Miami Dolphins 30-12 on Sunday.
“We wanted to go out there and make a statement,” Bell said.
Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger, who wore a walking boot on his right foot afterward, more than wiped away the bitter aftertaste of a 30-15 whipping at the hands of the Dolphins in mid-October. Given a shot at redemption, Pittsburgh didn’t let it go to waste. The Steelers (12-5) led by two touchdowns before the game was 10 minutes old on long touchdown passes from Roethlisberger to Brown. Miami never got closer than 11.
“Le’Veon was beastly,” said Brown, who finished with five receptions for 124 yards and the two scores. “All day, controlling the line of scrimmage, just running guys over and finding a way to put the ball in the end zone. Any time he’s playing like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”
Certainly, at least, teams like the Dolphins (10-7). Given a chance to prove their first playoff berth in eight years wasn’t a fluke despite being outgained and outscored during the regular season, Miami never found a rhythm. The problem wasn’t the single digit wind chill or a vicious hit absorbed by quarterback Matt Moore in the second quarter as much as it was the Steelers.
Pittsburgh sacked Moore five times, forced turnovers on three consecutive possessions in the middle of the game, and never really let the Dolphins up off the deck.
“It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over,” said Moore, completed 29 of 36 passes for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “In the playoffs, you can’t make mistakes and that’s on me.”
Pittsburgh (12-5) ran off its eighth straight victory to set up a visit to AFC West champion Kansas City (12-4) next Sunday. The Steelers rolled by the Chiefs 43-14 on Oct. 2.
“We have to understand the same passion and dedication that we put in this week to beat Miami, that’s how Kansas City is going to try to beat us,” Bell said.
At least Bell will be around for the challenge. He missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons with knee injuries. All he did in his postseason debut was break Hall of Famer Franco Harris’ team mark for yards rushing in a playoff game. Harris ran for 158 yards in a Super Bowl win over Minnesota 42 years ago. Bell reached that total by the end of the third quarter.
The Dolphins tried to hype themselves up by running around in shirt sleeves in the single-digit wind chill during warmups. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier did them one better, racing around shirtless — as if to send a message that his team is plenty comfortable playing this time of year.
It sure looked like it.
The Steelers scored on their first three possessions, and Miami’s playoff victory drought was well on its way to 17 years and counting. Miami running back Jay Ajayi managed just 33 yards on 16 carries, or 171 yards less than he piled up against Pittsburgh in October.
Uh-oh: Roethlisberger completed his first 10 passes and finished 13 of 18 for 189 yards with two scores and two interceptions. He also sported a walking boot on his right foot while talking to the media after the game as a preventative measure. Roethlisberger tweaked the ankle while throwing an interception on Pittsburgh’s penultimate drive. He sprinted off the field afterward and said he will be ready to go against the Chiefs.
Gritty Moore: Moore appeared to be out of it when Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree launched into him midway through the second quarter just after Moore released a pass. Moore lay on his back for several moments before slowly getting up and making his way to the sideline. Amazingly, he missed only one play after getting cleared by an independent neurologist as well as a team doctor. The 32-year-old stressed it looked worse than it felt. Dupree was hit with a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.
“I just really needed a second,” Moore said. “With all the protocols now with the NFL, I had to do all that. It was fine. I had to gather myself for a second there. I was able to do that and went back in.”
Injuries: The Dolphins badly missed cornerback Byron Maxwell (ankle), out a third straight game. Miami held Brown to four receptions for 39 yards in October, but he topped that total before the game was three minutes old.
Pittsburgh avoided any major concerns heading to the divisional round, though tight end Ladarius Green (concussion) was inactive for a third straight week.
Up next: The Dolphins showed signs of progress in coach Adam Gase’s first season and may be the AFC East team best positioned to challenge New England in 2017.
Pittsburgh’s only playoff visit to Kansas City came in 1993, a loss to the Joe Montana-led Chiefs 27-24 in overtime.