AFC East: 2013 Week 14 MIA at PIT

Charles Clay comes up big for Dolphins

December, 8, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- In a game filled with stars and storylines, a relative unknown shined the brightest to help lead the Miami Dolphins to a 34-28 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Miami tight end Charles Clay, a former sixth-round pick, had a game-high seven receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns. With the Steelers focusing their attention on Miami receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, Clay was able to make Pittsburgh's defense pay over the middle.

On the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, Clay had to fight through a tackle to get to the end zone for a 12-yard score.

“It was just an attitude,” Clay said. “When you catch the ball that close to the goal line, the only thing I was thinking was to do all I could to get in the end zone.”

Clay entered training camp as a backup behind starting Miami tight end and big free-agent signing Dustin Keller. But Keller suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.

Clay has stepped into Keller’s role nicely and has 60 receptions for 678 yards and six touchdowns this season. Clay proved he can be a starter in the NFL and is arguably Miami’s biggest surprise of the season.

“The guy comes to work hard every day,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “He likes competing. He goes out and enjoys playing. He’s a good teammate, and he’s a talented guy as he’s shown.”

It takes good role players like Clay to make a playoff run. The Dolphins (7-6) join the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) as two teams with the inside track on the final playoff spot in the AFC.

A signature road win like Sunday’s against the Steelers (5-8) could be the type of game that helps propel the Dolphins into the postseason. Miami showed a lot of character to over six lead changes, in part due to Clay’s toughness and production.

“We earned every bit of it,” Clay said of the win.

The Dolphins will host New England Patriots (10-3) next week in another big game for both teams.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

December, 8, 2013

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins34-28 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

What it means: It wasn’t easy, but the Dolphins picked up a crucial road win to improve to 7-6 and significantly improve their playoff hopes. Miami survived six lead changes, culminating with a game-winning touchdown by tight end Charles Clay, to remain in firm standing for the final wild-card spot in the AFC with three games remaining. This was the first time this season that Miami scored 30 points or more. The Dolphins also are above .500 for the first time since Week 6. They are at home for two of their last three games.

Stock watch: Clay gave the Steelers’ defense a lot of trouble. He caught seven passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake also had a huge sack and forced fumble in the first half. Wake stripped Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the turnover led to a touchdown. Miami’s secondary has been solid most of the season, but it struggled against Pittsburgh’s passing game. Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns. The Dolphins struggled sticking to Pittsburgh’s receivers in the bad weather. But Miami's defense held tough in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and closed out the game.

Concussion watch: The Dolphins lost their starting running back, Lamar Miller, to a concussion. He was knocked out of the game in the third quarter after being hit hard by Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark. Miller was immediately taken out of the game and replaced by backup tailback Daniel Thomas. Miller’s status for the next game is uncertain.

What’s next: The games only get tougher. The Dolphins will host the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots next Sunday. New England beat Miami 27-17 in October and will be looking for the season sweep.

W2W4: Dolphins at Steelers

December, 7, 2013
The Miami Dolphins (6-6) will play another crucial game Sunday, against the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7).

Here are three things to watch for in this game from Miami's perspective:

1. Playoff attitude: Both the Dolphins and Steelers have not been afraid to say this game will have a playoff atmosphere. Neither team has a margin for error in this battle for the final wild-card spot in the AFC. Records and tiebreakers are at stake in this game. Pittsburgh, in particular, will probably see its playoff hopes end with a loss. Miami needs to win at least three of its next four games to have a chance.

2. Ball movement: Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had perhaps his best game of the season in last week’s 23-3 victory against the New York Jets. What made Tannehill so effective was he spread the ball around. Tannehill connected with seven different receivers, and three (Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace and Charles Clay) had at least seven receptions. That made Miami’s pass offense unpredictable. The Dolphins have a chance to have further success against an aging Pittsburgh secondary.

3. Sack attack: Miami’s defense has been much better in recent weeks at sacking the quarterback. The Dolphins have 10 sacks in the past three games. They will need to finish those plays again on Sunday against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The burly quarterback is one of the best at shaking off defenders and extending plays for big gains. It will be important for Miami pass-rushers such as Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan, and Jared Odrick to wrap up and bring Roethlisberger to the ground.