For almost 30 minutes of football on Monday, the Miami Dolphins looked like a competent NFL team.
Their defense regularly swarmed Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph while Ryan Fitzpatrick invoked Fitzmagic for a pair of touchdowns to lead Miami to a 14-0 first-half lead.
Then they blew it.
Former Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick, setting off a late first-half Dolphins implosion that carried over into the second half of a 27-14 Steelers win.
The game fell apart for Miami after Fitzpatrick’s interception, primed by an aggressive defensive play call that opened the door for the first Steelers touchdown.
What were Dolphins coaches thinking?
With 17 seconds remaining in the first half, the Steelers found themselves in third-and-20 at the Miami 45-yard line.
The primary job of the defense in this situation is to protect against the big touchdown play with a secondary focus on keeping the opponent out of field goal range. A three- or four-man rush with multiple defenders in a deep zone is generally the prescribed play call in this situation.
Instead, the Dolphins blitzed eight, leaving three helpless defenders in the secondary with no chance of stopping speedy Steelers wide receiver Dionte Johnson when Rudolph found him streaking over the middle for a 45-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
It was a bizarre play call from the Dolphins sideline of head coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and it may have cost Miami a win.
Steelers take complete control after Johnson TD
The touchdown cut the Dolphins lead to 14-10 and was a pivotal moment as Pittsburgh reeled off 27 unanswered points to take control of the game.
Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick again in the third quarter, leading to another Steelers touchdown drive to take a 17-14 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Steelers defense was dominant for the rest of the game, shutting Miami out in the second half. Pittsburgh held onto the ball for more than 35 minutes while forcing four Dolphins turnovers on the night.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner starred on offense with Smith-Schuster tallying 103 receiving yards and a touchdown and Conner running for 145 yards and a score.
James Conner injured
Conner walked off the field to the locker late in the game. Head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters after the game that he suffered an AC joint (shoulder) injury, but did not have details on the severity.
The loss drops the Dolphins to 0-7, while the Steelers improve to 3-4 with the win.
Still spots for wins on Dolphins schedule
All hope for a win in Miami isn’t loss. They still have two games remaining against the New York Jets and a Week 16 slate with the Cincinnati Bengals that could end up being a battle of winless teams.
But for any Dolphins faithful who invested in the first half against the Steelers, Monday’s loss amounts to a massive disappointment.
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