As the NFL enters the postseason, Miami Dolphins fans are geeked, as for the first time since 2008, they’re not talking in early January about firing the coach or the draft. No, instead it’s a rematch with the Steelers coming Sunday in Pittsburgh that has South Florida buzzing.
And to add to the build up, the Fins already know that they can beat the Steelers, as they did 30-15 in October at Hard Rock Stadium turning their season around for good in the process.
Miami came into that matchup 1-4 and in desperation mode with an unproven first year head coach, Adam Gase, facing criticism from all directions. But by the time the AFC showdown was over, the Dolphins had not only injured Ben Roethlisberger’s knee, but picked him off twice and most importantly, a new workhorse running back emerged in Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi became the first Dolphin to run for 200 yards in a game since Ricky Williams in the early 2000’s. And, it started a stretch where he would run for 200 more the next week, eventually be named player of the month in the AFC and Miami would go on to reel off six straight victories.
How much of the Dolphins success/turnaround can be attributed to that October Day against Pittsburgh? Well, it’s undeniable that it had some positive effect for Miami.
Meanwhile, the Steelers (and their fans) would be the first to point out that they have played in and won some big ones since that day in the Miami sun. None bigger than their Christmas night dramatic last second Antonio Brown reaching across the goal line for the game winning score victory over the Ravens that clinched the AFC North and this home game Sunday.
There will be one significant storyline/difference in Sunday’s game for the Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill’s injured knee. At mid-week it’s still an unknown as to whether Gase and the Dolphins would clear/risk playing him on what has been described as “sprained” not torn ACL and/or MCL. It’s been almost 4 weeks since his injury, but it’s been believed that he can start to practice this week on it. Then, it will be curious, if he can play at all in this game.
We do know that backup QB Matt Moore played well in all three of his starts down the stretch winning twice on the road before losing last Sunday at home to the Patriots. Moore was even named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after his four TD night at the Jets in week 15.
Will Moore go the whole way? Might Tannehill see a series or two? It’s still up in the air at this stage.
And finally, as expected for the “Steel City” in January, it will be cold, as in 20 degrees with a lower windchill Sunday afternoon. That’s a big switch from October and obviously, advantage Steelers, too.
Yes, the Dolphins have the head to head win earlier, but this is January…on the road…with most of the team and it’s head coach in unfamiliar territory and situation. Handling all of that is truly what playoff football is all about.