By Abe Gutierrez
In an anticlimactic manner, the Miami Dolphins’ season came to an end against an unstoppable and extremely physical Pittsburgh Steelers team in Sunday’s AFC Wild Card Round. The end result was a 30-12 thrashing, as Adam Gase’s bunch simply couldn’t get anything going on either side of the pigskin.
Not only were Pittsburgh’s Killer B’s—Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell—on their game, but Miami also did itself no favors by playing poor defense, failing to capitalize on offensive opportunities and committing a bevy of unforced errors.
The Steelers will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs in next week’s AFC Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, while the Fins go home empty-handed.
“I just told them, ‘just remember this feeling cause you don’t want it,’” Gase said regarding his post-game locker room speech. “It’s going to start again at some point and what you did the year before it’s not going to matter it’s going to be zero-zero again and just don’t forget this feeling cause you want to get back to this spot and make some noise.’”
Looking to duplicate Jay Ajayi’s 204-yard rushing performance earlier this season, there was no secret as to what Miami wanted to do offensively. Unfortunately, the Fins couldn’t do anything against a very physical Steelers defense on a mission to break them one hit at a time.
“We might have had a couple of opportunities occasionally and we just didn’t take advantage of them and they played very good on their side of the ball,” Gase explained. “They hit us with a couple of pressures that we’ve picked up in the past and we didn’t quite fit it up as well as we wanted to. They had too much penetration where we couldn’t get anything going in the running game.”
The Dolphins finished the game with 18 first downs (16 on passes, one on a running play and one thanks to a Steelers penalty) and 305 yards of total offense (253 passing yards and 52 rushing yards). In his first playoff appearance, quarterback Matt More completed 29-of-36 pass attempts for 289 yards, a touchdown and interception, five sacks and two lost fumbles for a passer-rating of 97.8.
Things got off to a dreadful start from the opening whistle, as Miami’s defense surrendered 219 yards of total offense in the first quarter. Big Ben (13/18, 197 yards, two TDs and two INTs for a passer-rating of 105.3) closed out the opening stanza by going 7-for-7 in pass completions for 162 yards, two touchdowns and no picks for a perfect passer-rating of 158.3.
Meanwhile, stellar wide receiver Antonio Brown (five receptions for 124 yards, two TDs) was the focal point of the Steelers’ attack early on, coming away with three catches for 119 yards and two scores in the first quarter. Roethlisberger completed his first 11 throws of the game, setting the tone for things to come.
“It’s a tough offense,” Gase said. “We knew what we were getting into when we came here. We knew what we had to do, we didn’t do it. [Antonio Brown] is a tough guy to slow down. Once he gets rolling and he starts feeling like he knows where he can hit it and he does such a good job of being patient. When we got our hands on him we just couldn’t get him down, just wasn’t a good day for us.”
Miami’s defense allowed the Steelers to tally 19 first downs (seven on passes, nine on rushes and three on penalties) and 367 yards of total offense (188 passing yards, 179 rushing yards). Bell was also unstoppable, finishing the game with 167 yards on 29 carries and a pair of scores in his NFL playoff debut.
“They were able to run the ball and we couldn’t, that was opposite of what we wanted to do,” Gase added. “We turned the ball over and we knew we couldn’t do that. So those were the two really critical factors that we had to make sure that we won and we didn’t do it.”
Special Teams: A+
Miami’s special teams unit was the lone bright spot of the game for the visiting squad. Kicker Andrew Franks was perfect on the afternoon, going 2-for-2 on field goal attempts including a long of 47 yards. Punter Matt Darr also did his part with a pair of punts for an average of 55 yards, one placed inside Pittsburgh’s 20-yard line and a long boot of 61 yards.
One of the frontrunners to win the 2016 NFL Coach of the Year award, Gase found himself in a position where he was severely out-coached by Mike Tomlin and his battle-tested staff. After a hard week of practice, the Fins were sloppy on offense, defense and simply committed too many mistakes to overcome the long odds.
“I’m probably going to need some time to decompress before I just start thinking about all that,” said Gase. “I know the guys worked hard, they put a lot of time in this week, they really practiced hard, we had a good week of practice. We just didn’t execute or coach well enough.”
Up next: Miami heads into the offseason optimistic about the future
After a turnaround season, Miami goes into the offseason with a bitter taste in their mouths but hopeful about the future. One of the positive takeaways this season is the way Gase and his staff were able to change the culture of the organization and accountability is now part of this team’s DNA.