Injuries forced Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to wait three seasons for the chance to run onto the field together in the playoffs. The wait for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Big Three” to do it again won’t be nearly as long.
Bell ran for a franchise postseason record 167 yards and two scores, Brown caught five passes for 124 yards and a pair of first-quarter touchdowns from Roethlisberger as the Steelers overwhelmed the beaten-up and mistake-prone Miami Dolphins 30-12 on Sunday.
Pittsburgh (12-5) ran off their eighth straight victory by avenging a whipping by the Dolphins (10-7) in mid-October to set up a visit to AFC West champion Kansas City (12-4) next Sunday. The Steelers rolled by the Chiefs 43-14 on 2 October.
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Bell missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons with knee injuries, and Brown sat out a divisional-round playoff loss to Denver 12 months ago due to a concussion. They played as if trying to make up for lost time.
The Dolphins tried to hype themselves up by running around in shirt sleeves in the single-digit wind chill during warmups. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier did them one better, racing around shirtless — as if to send a message that his team is plenty comfortable playing this time of year.
The Steelers scored on their first three possessions, and Miami’s playoff victory drought was well on its way to 17 years and counting.
Brown turned a pair of short passes into long scores. The first, a 50-yard sprint down the left sideline, came after Brown patiently waited for tight end Jesse James to provide the one block he needed. The second, a crossing pattern Brown turned into a 62-yard touchdown, ended with the All-Pro receiver pointing at a Miami defender as he crossed the goal line to put the Steelers up 14-0 before the game was 10 minutes old.
Matt Moore, making the first playoff start of his decade-long career with Ryan Tannehill still sidelined by a sprained knee, played on despite taking a helmet-to-chin shot from Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree in the second quarter. Moore returned just minutes after sitting dazed on the turf and completed 29 of 36 passes for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But he fumbled twice with the ball in Steelers territory and the game still in doubt.
The first fumble, caused by an unblocked James Harrison, ended a Miami drive at the Pittsburgh 13. The second, when Moore collided with running back Jay Ajayi, set up a Chris Boswell field goal that pushed Pittsburgh’s lead to 23-6 midway through the third quarter.
Shazier stepped in front of Moore’s pass on Miami’s next possession, and when Bell darted it from 8 yards, the Steelers were up 30-6.
The Dolphins hardly looked like the team that pushed around the Steelers three months ago when Ajayi ran for 204 yards and two scores. That set the stage for Miami’s 9-2 finish to send the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“Last time we felt like we didn’t play well,” Bell said. “Those guys got after us, they jumped on us early.”
There was no running room for Ajayi this time. He was held to 33 yards on 16 carries, forcing the Dolphins to rely on Moore and a defense incapable of handling the Steelers.
“The defense played great today, stopping their run game, making it tough on (Ajayi) on their side, he’s a great runner,” Bell added. “On the other side, we wanted to control the ball, score some touchdowns and we did our job today.”
After Brown controlled the first quarter, Bell dominated the second. He carried 10 straight times during an 83-yard touchdown drive as Pittsburgh showcased the varied ways it can beat you.
It’s a healthy blueprint they’ll take to Kansas City next weekend.