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Sunday, December 8, 2013
Playoff-hungry Dolphins are good and lucky

By James Walker

PITTSBURGH -- As Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown was streaking down the sideline in the final seconds for a potential game-winning touchdown, there was a range of thoughts and emotions going through the heads of the Miami Dolphins:

Shock.

"This can't be happening," Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said of his thought process on the final play.

Wishful thinking.

"Please step out of bounds," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of his mindset.

What about hope?

"I wished there was somewhere I could get a strike of energy to go catch him," said defensive tackle Jared Odrick, who watched helplessly from 20 to 30 yards up the field.

The Dolphins were not only good in Pittsburgh on Sunday -- they also were lucky. Brown barely stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard line to conclude a wild, 34-28 road victory for Miami.

Heinz Field is not an easy place for visiting teams, especially in inclement weather. Yet the Dolphins (7-6) answered every challenge against Pittsburgh (5-8), coming of age and showing their mettle by overcoming six lead changes. And, of course, they averted disaster in the final seconds.

On the near-miracle play, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a pass to receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who delivered the first of five Steelers laterals. The final lateral landed in the hands of the dangerous Brown, who ran past several Dolphins defenders but barely ran out of real estate on the sideline while on his way to the end zone.

"It seemed surreal for a second," said Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 200 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. "I did see him step out. I was standing right there on the sideline. Thank goodness for that one inch."

Added Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, "I think I need some blood-pressure medicine or something."

There were plenty of questions about Miami in this game. The Dolphins hadn't played in a true cold-weather game all year. This also was the first snow game of Tannehill's entire football career, spanning high school or college. No one knew how the Dolphins would play in slippery conditions and temperatures ranging in the 20s.

Daniel Thomas
Daniel Thomas rushed for 105 yards as the Dolphins weathered the elements and edged the Steelers.
In addition, the Steelers were desperate and dangerous. But Miami beat them at their own game, rushing for a season-high 181 yards and averaging 7.5 yards per carry.

Backup tailback Daniel Thomas stepped up when Lamar Miller exited with a concussion, rushing for 105 yards and a score. It was Thomas' first 100-yard game since his rookie year in 2011.

"I didn't know if I was going to play this week," said Thomas, who returned early from an ankle injury. "Being able to come back and play was a blessing."

Thomas helped lead the Dolphins on the biggest drive of the game. With the Steelers leading 28-24 in the fourth quarter, Miami put together a four-play, 80-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown. Thomas sprinted up the left side for 55 yards to set up a touchdown catch by tight end Charles Clay two plays later.

Pittsburgh never recovered from that final blow.

This was Miami's signature win of the season. It's also the type of game that might propel the Dolphins into the final wild-card spot in the AFC. Miami has the same record as the Baltimore Ravens (7-6), who hold the final playoff spot in the conference due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

However, Baltimore has a much tougher remaining schedule. The winning percentage of the Ravens' opponents is .667, with games against the Detroit Lions (7-6), New England Patriots (10-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (9-4). The Dolphins' opposing win percentage is .513, with games against the Patriots (10-3), Buffalo Bills (4-9) and New York Jets (6-7).

The team that gets the hottest in December will grab the final wild card in the AFC, which means Miami is playing some of its best football at the right time. The Dolphins improved to 2-0 this month, winning two in a row for the first time since a three-game streak to start the season.

"Last week to this week, we have the mentality where we're just going to go out there and have to win the day," said Wake, who had two tackles and a sack. "All the rest of that stuff on the outside, that's really not in our control.

"Whatever happens out there will happen. But what we can control is what we do when we go out on that field."