The Steelers didn’t just end the Dolphins season.
They punched their guests in the mouth so viciously, they left the Dolphins searching for fillings.
The Steelers beat and bloodied the Dolphins on an obscenely cold Sunday afternoon, hammering Miami 30-12 to savagely end what was a remarkable season in South Florida.
And no play captured the one-sided nature of this drubbing more than this:
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When Bud Dupree launched, helmet-first, into Matt Moore’s chin, an obviously illegal but no less impactful hit that left the Dolphins quarterback prone on his back for what seemed an eternity.
“I just got smoked,” Moore said outside a rapidly emptying locker room Sunday. “I needed a second. That was really it. I was checking to see if I had all my teeth, really. I just really needed a second, and obviously with all the protocols now with the NFL, I had to go see the doctor and do all that. I was fine. I just kind of had to gather myself for a second. I was able to do that and went back in.”
Moore, amazingly, missed just one play. He and the Dolphins insist he was not concussed. Moore was evaluated and cleared by both the NFL’s unaffiliated neurological consultant and the team’s physician, the team said.
Moore knows what it’s like to suffer a concussion. He dealt with one just five months ago after Cowboys linebacker James Morris crushed him with another high hit.
This didn’t feel like that one, said Moore, who gave no thought of tapping out of the game after doctors cleared him to return.
“There was no chance,” Moore said of staying on the bench.
Kind of like the Dolphins’ odds of escaping Heinz Field with a win once Moore turned the ball over on three straight possessions.
The Dolphins, playing in the coldest playoff game in franchise history (17 degrees), dug a deep hole, as they always do. The defense -- worst in team history -- was over-matched from the start.
They allowed a touchdown on their first defensive series for the fifth time in seven games. Antonio Brown did the heavy lifting, scoring on touchdown catches of 50 or more yards on each of Pittsburgh’s first two possessions.
And when Le’Veon Bell ran 10 straight times on one drive, capping it with a one-yard touchdown plunge, he put the Steelers up 20-3.
The game seemed over.
And yet, Miami had the ball at the Steelers’ 8, down 14, with 27 seconds left in the half. They were due to get the ball first after intermission, so even a field goal there would breathe new life into the game.
That’s when Moore made the first of three inexcusable mistakes. He saw James Harrison coming around left end, tried to scramble away, but couldn’t. Harrison caught Moore, stripped him, and ended the threat.
“He should have just taken the sack,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “... We turned the ball over, and we knew we couldn’t do that.”
Moore, who did complete 29 of 36 passes for 289 yards, did so twice more to open the second half, again fumbling in Steelers territory and then throwing a pick deep in his own end.
“Cannot do it,” Moore said. “Can. Not. Do. It. And when stuff like that happens, the game usually goes the way it did.”
The Dolphins’ other priority Sunday? Contain Bell. That was a failure too.
The Steelers back had 167 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Miami surrendered an awful 6.8 yards per play Sunday. And in the year’s final 28 defensive series, dating back to halftime of the Bills game, the Dolphins forced a punt or turnover just eight times.
Opponents scored 30 or more points in four of the Dolphins’ last six games. And with the Broncos reportedly in hot pursuit of Vance Joseph (the Denver Post reports Joseph will interview for Denver’s head coaching gig early this week), the Dolphins will likely have to fix their defense with a new coordinator.
But that’s a worry for another day. The Dolphins, teeth intact, flew back to a far better (or at least warmer) place late Sunday to begin their offseason. They’ve learned how to beat the bad teams. Now, they need to figure out how to beat the good ones. The Dolphins ended the season 1-5 against clubs with a winning record.
“This team won’t be together and it won’t be the same,” said running back Jay Ajayi, limited to just 33 rushing yards Sunday. “We won’t be able to reach that goal that we all wanted to achieve. That’s tough. I do not know anyone that is just content with being in the playoffs. We wanted to win the whole things. I know I did. It hurts.”