Steelers score vs. Dolphins takeaway: Defense key to Miami win over Pittsburgh in Tua Tagovailoa comeback

The Dolphins’ 16-10 win over the Steelers on Sunday night was a game the 1972 Dolphins were surely proud of. Known for their ‘No Name’ defense, the ’72 Dolphins – who were honored at halftime – were treated to a defensive battle that saw the current Dolphins defense make two crucial saves late to preserve the fourth Miami win of the season.

An offensively charged first half gave way to a defensive second half. Miami and Pittsburgh traded punts for the majority of the half until the Steelers made two late charges to win the game. Pittsburgh were held back both times, with Noah Igbinoghene sealing the win with his interception in Kenny Pickett’s end zone with 25 seconds left. Javon Holland ended Pittsburgh’s previous drive when he walked past Pickett’s pass intended for Diontae Johnson deep in Dolphins territory.

Miami received just enough offense from Tua Tagovailoa, who played for the first time after missing the last two games. The Dolphins quarterback threw for 261 yards, including his 8-yard throw against Raheem Mostert on the first drive of the game. Miami led 13-0 after the first quarter before Pittsburgh’s offense woke up with a pair of second quarter scores. Pickett cut Pittsburgh’s deficit to three after hitting fellow rookie George Pickens for 7 yards with 1:50 left until halftime. The Dolphins managed to earn a quick field goal before halftime, a score that would ultimately pay massive dividends in the closing stages of Sunday night’s game.

Here’s a look at what happened in South Beach.

Why the Dolphins won

Miami came with critical plays on defense, especially on the Steelers’ last two drives. Despite playing without several key players, the Dolphins defense forced three turnovers while holding Pittsburgh to 4 of 14 on third down. Among Miami’s top defensemen was linebacker Jaelan Phillips, who had eight tackles and 1.5 sacks.

The Dolphins offense contributed to the cause by capitalizing on the early successes of its defense. They also capitalized on their last scoring opportunity in the first half, as Tagovailoa’s 32-yard completions to Trent Sherfield 21 yards at Tyreek Hill set up Jason Sanders’ 47-yard field goal.

Miami’s defensive performance saved Mike McDaniel from criticism after the Dolphins coach opted to go fourth-and-third on the Steelers 14-yard line with 8:43 left in the third quarter. McDaniel called a run at Chase Edmunds who was drunk by Larry Ogunjobi.

Why the Steelers lost

For a second straight game, the Steelers scored 10 points in the first half before going scoreless in the second half with Pickett under center. While he continues to show promise, Pickett and the Steelers offense continue to suffer dry spells. Pickett also continues to throw interceptions at an alarming level; he now has seven in four games.

Conversely, the Steelers defense failed to pull off a big turnover despite Tagovailoa throwing four passes that went in and out of the hands of Pittsburgh defensive backs. Two of those passes would have taken away the field goals if the Steelers had been able to play the game. The fourth missed chance, which came when Levi Wallace broke up Tagovailoa’s third pass with 2:41 left, would have given the ball to the Steelers around from their own 30 meter line. Pittsburgh instead got the ball on their 13-yard line after a Dolphins punt.

The turnovers marred the good things Pickett did in what was only his third NFL start. The first-round pick went 32 of 44 with 257 yards while completing passes to eight different teammates. He threw eight completions to Pat Freiermuth and six to Pickens, who added to his rookie highlight reel with his second-quarter touchdown.

Turning

The Steelers looked poised to take the lead after moving from their own 18 to the Dolphins 15-yard line late in the fourth quarter. But two offensive penalties set up a third-and-16 of the Dolphins’ 30. Instead of playing it safe and playing for a potential field goal opportunity, Pickett threw for the sticks and was intercepted by Holland, who made Miami’s first of two. big saves at the end of the game.

While Pickett could have made a safer throw, Pittsburgh’s penalties on the next two plays put him in a tough spot.

Game of the game

It was an easy call, as Igbinoghene’s pick on the Steelers’ final offensive play preserved a Dolphins win while ending Miami’s three-game losing streak. The pick, which Pickett said was miscommunication between him and Johnson, came after Pickett passed up a chance to land a first down with his legs while stopping the clock.

Quotable

“There were games where I could kind of see the first down and I tried to get the first down. I came on the sidelines after some of those games…those things that happen are things that I shouldn’t do. I’m going to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate some of these things. But it was a big team win tonight. – Tagovailoa to NBC Sports after the game when discussing some of his decisions not to slip on races

“The Dolphins caught theirs, and we didn’t catch ours, and that’s probably the difference in the game. … We didn’t give our offense a short pitch by producing a turnover or two, and they did.” — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on the Dolphins’ ability to get turnovers, and their defense’s inability to do the same, and the impact that had on the outcome

Other nuggets from Sunday evening

  • Flores and Fitzpatrick return to Miami

Brian Flores and Minkah Fitzpatrick have returned to Miami for the first time since splitting with the Dolphins. Flores returned after an unceremonious exit after leading the Dolphins to back-to-back winning seasons. Fitzpatrick was back after being traded to Pittsburgh just two games into his sophomore season. Fitzpatrick had several big hits against his former teammates while leading a Steelers defense that forced six punts and a turnover on second-half tries.

The Dolphins celebrated the golden anniversary of Miami’s perfect season. Hall of Famers Larry Csonka, Larry Little, Bob Griese and Paul Warfield flanked the Dolphins captains for the coin toss. Members of the 1972 squad enjoyed the action from a luxury suite before being honored at half-time.

Miami celebrated the 1972 team again by switching up the end zones while wearing special throwback jerseys.

And after

The Steelers will travel to Philadelphia to face the undefeated Eagles. Pittsburgh haven’t won at Philadelphia since 1965. They’ve lost their last nine games in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’, with the last loss coming in 2016. Making it harder for the Steelers is the fact that the Eagles come out of their week goodbye.

Miami begins its two-game road trip with a visit to Motor City to take on the Lions. Detroit fell to 1-5 after Sunday’s 24-6 loss to the Cowboys. One bright spot for the Lions so far has been the play of rookie Aiden Hutchinson, who had 1.5 sacks in Sunday’s loss.

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