A clearly hampered Ben Roethlisberger (knee) opened the door for a nearly improbable Miami Dolphins upset on Sunday. The 30-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers stops the bleeding of a two-game losing skid and whispers of a full-out tailspin in Miami.
Here's what we learned...
1. Ben Roethlisberger was nowhere near 100 percent. Let's get this out of the way first. The Steelers are still one of the best football teams in the league, but operated with a roughly 50 percent effective Roethlisberger for the entire second half. Roethlisberger threw his first pick on the play he got injured on, then returned after the break to hurl a wobbling pass at a receiver with two defenders lurking clearly underneath. The team's final touchdown drive of the game was an opportunity for Pittsburgh to show just how deep they are at the wide receiver position, as Cobi Hamilton, Eli Rogers and Le'Veon Bell carried a one-legged quarterback to the end zone.
2. With that out of the way... This was probably the most physical we've seen the Dolphins all season. Jay Ajayi had a career-best 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a 62-yard exclamation point at the end of the game to put the Steelers completely out of reach. Ajayi was physical and confident, breaking tackles at the second level and accelerating through open windows. The Dolphins were on a long search to find their bell cow running back and, despite Arian Foster making his return on Sunday, this may have been Ajayi's coming out party.
3. Byron Maxwell was tremendous. Taking into consideration that Roethlisberger had no zip on his passes during the second half, this was by far the best performance Miami got out of Maxwell all season. The much maligned cornerback got a hearty handshake and hug from coach Adam Gase after the game, a nod to a performance that seemed to be as much about Maxwell's game prep for Antonio Brown as it was his physical play at the line. Brown finished with four catches for 39 yards. It's easy after a game like this to say if he could just play this way every week... but it's not just about one player. Miami hasn't been this healthy going into a game in a little while.
4. With the white-hot Bills coming to town... Gase has a chance to truly silence some of his critics. Gase worried some, including myself, with the constant rotation of players in and out of the starting lineup. But the thrive-or-be-benched mentality seems to have created a spark for the moment -- a good sign for a team that is top-heavy with star talent good enough to sway Miami's fortunes either way.
5. Should Big Ben's knee injury linger... We will see a very different Steelers team. Bell shifted from receiving threat to I-formation back when Landry Jones came into the game. While this isn't the worst-case scenario given Pittsburgh's stable of talented backs (Karlos Williams is also on the practice squad), it would obviously put the team in a bad spot heading into a game against New England.