Steelers overcome slow start, drop winless Dolphins 27-14
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers stopped beating themselves long enough to keep the Miami Dolphins winless.
James Conner ran for 145 yards and a touchdown, and Mason Rudolph overcame a shaky start to throw for 251 yards and two scores as the Steelers pulled away for a 27-14 victory on Monday night.
Pittsburgh (3-4) spotted the Dolphins (0-7) a 14-point first quarter lead before steadying itself to win consecutive games for the first time since ripping off six straight in the middle of last season. Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, acquired in a trade with Miami last month, picked off Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick twice, and Pittsburgh forced four turnovers in all to avoid an embarrassing loss that would have effectively ended the competitive portion of its season.
Rudolph completed 20 of 36 passes, including a 45-yard touchdown to rookie Diontae Johnson late in the second quarter and a 26-yard strike to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the third quarter that put the Steelers in control. Smith-Schuster caught five passes for 103 yards, his first 100-yard game of the year.
Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 190 yards with two touchdowns and two picks, but a rare hot start couldn't prevent Miami from staying winless through seven games for the first time since 2011. The Dolphins have dropped 10 straight dating back to last season.
Rudolph stressed he wasn't worried about the long-term effects of a frightening concussion he suffered against Baltimore on Oct. 6, when he was knocked unconscious from a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ravens safety Earl Thomas. Still, playing for the first time in three weeks, he looked shaky at best and completely out of sorts at worst during an ugly opening quarter that saw the Dolphins grab their first two-touchdown lead over any opponent in more than a year.
Pittsburgh's first possession ended with Rudolph throwing a pick to Xavien Howard — back in the lineup after missing two games with a knee injury — and its second ended with an ugly fourth-down misfire by Rudolph.
The Dolphins, in the midst of a massive and ceaseless roster overhaul under first-year coach Brian Flores that included trading running back Kenyan Drake to Arizona on Monday for a conditional sixth-round pick in next year's draft, showed their first extended signs of life in an already lost season.
Fitzpatrick found Albert Wilson for a 5-yard touchdown after Howard's interception, and Allen Hurns plowed through several tackles on his way to a 12-yard score that gave Miami — a 14-point underdog — a 14-point advantage for the first time since Oct. 7, 2018. The Dolphins couldn't hold on then, allowing the Bengals to rally for a victory. A year later, not much has changed.
The Steelers pulled within 14-10 at the break thanks to the first of Minkah Fitzpatrick's two interceptions and some curious defensive play-calling by the Dolphins.
Leading by 11 points and with Pittsburgh facing third-and-20 outside of field goal range, Miami opted to blitz and didn't bother to guard Johnson, who took a short pass from Rudolph and used a couple of downfield blocks by James Washington to weave his way 45 yards to the end zone.
Fitzpatrick's second pick — basically an arm punt by Ryan Fitzpatrick — gave the Steelers the ball at Pittsburgh 3. Rudolph then led Pittsburgh 97 yards in 12 plays, the last 26 coming on a pretty lob to the end zone that Smith-Schuster hauled in to put the Steelers up 17-14. Pittsburgh stopped Fitzpatrick on a fourth-down scramble on Miami's ensuing possession — a stop made possible by coach Mike Tomlin's first successful officiating challenge since 2017 — and five plays later, Conner bulled over from 9 yards out to boost Pittsburgh's lead to 10.
Dolphins: Howard's return was brief. He left in the second half after aggravating his knee injury. ... CB Ken Webster left with an ankle injury in the first half and did not return.
Steelers: Conner left in the fourth quarter with an upper-body injury. ... Ramon Foster (concussion) exited with a concussion in the first half and did not return. ... RB Benny Snell left with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
Dolphins: Welcome the New York Jets (1-6) next Sunday. Miami swept the Jets last season.
Steelers: Host Indianapolis (5-2) next Sunday. Pittsburgh has won each of its last five meetings with the Colts.