What we learned from Steelers' victory over Dolphins

*Down 14 points for most of the first half, the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4) staved off embarrassment and came back to defeat the still winless Miami Dolphins (0-7), 27-14, on "Monday Night Football" to close out Week 8. Here's what we learned: *

  1. When the book is written on the 2019 season, few will remember Monday evening's bout between Mason Rudolph and Ryan Fitzpatrick even happened. In fact, most might want to forget the slog between two teams with a combined two wins ever graced television, computer and mobile screens. Aside from the uni-wear being aesthetically pleasing, Monday's game was a sore for those with sight. The legacy of the game, however, could have great implications in late April. Miami's loss, its seventh of the season in seven tries, keeps the franchise's chances of securing the first overall pick in the 2020 draft squarely in its hands. A surprising win over Pittsburgh, which appeared very possible for a half, would have landed the Dolphins their first win but also sweetened the value of the Steelers' first-round pick (which Miami owns). A possible win-lose-win scenario avoided. The same cannot be said for the viewing public.
  1. On a topsy-turvy night for Rudolph (251 yards, 2 TDs, INT), making his first start since suffering a scary concussion in Week 5, Pittsburgh's offense was picked up first by its defense. With the Dolphins up 14-3 late in the second quarter and Miami driving, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw his first of two picks to the other Fitzpatrick, Minkah, who less than two months ago was donning orange and aqua. Pittsburgh quickly turned the pick into points with Rudolph hitting Diontae Johnson against an all-out Dolphins blitz on third-and-20 for a 45-yard catch-and-run score. The Steelers carried that positive play into the second half and scored on two of their next three drives. One of their tallies came via JuJu Smith-Schuster (103 yards) "Mossing" an unfortunate Dolphins defensive back en route to the receiver's first 100-yard day of the season. Another came via a James Conner red-zone run, as the running back went over the century mark on the ground (145 yards) for the first time this year, as well.

Perhaps the Miami defense is a cure-all for all offenses, including Pittsburgh's. Perhaps the return of Roosevelt Nix solved all of the Steelers' woes in the ground game. Regardless of what caused the renegade resurgence, Pittsburgh will need more of it as it faces tougher competition and looks to get back into the AFC wild-card race. That, and better injury luck. Ramon Foster, Benny Snell, Maurkice Pouncey and Conner all left Monday's contest with ailments at one point, with the latter's potential shoulder injury the most distressing.

  1. Key to Pittsburgh getting back in Monday's win was a steady pass rush from T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Bud Dupree. Watt led the charge in the second half, mauling Miami's right side en route to three QB hits, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. More attention has been paid to his brother, J.J., this season as the three-time Defensive Player of the Year returned to form only to suffer a season-ending pectoral injury on Sunday. But younger bro T.J. is in the midst of another stellar season on an otherwise suspect Pittsburgh defense and worthy of the spotlight himself. Watt led the Steel Curtain to 10 QB hits of Fitzpatrick in all, and while Miami did not punt in the second half, the Dolphins didn't score either. Their drives ended as follows: INT, downs, fumble, fumble, downs, end of game.
  1. Nothing great in Miami lasts. Monday marked the return of star cornerback Xavien Howard to the field after a two-game absence. After recording a tone-setting pick of Rudolph on Pittsburgh's first drive and shutting down Smith-Schuster, Howard was driven from the game with a knee injury. Dolphins coach Brian Flores said Howard will undergo an MRI on Tuesday. It's another setback for a Miami defense that can hold its own for about a half before collapsing in a flourish week after week.
  1. After trading away Kenyan Drake earlier Monday morning, are more moves out of Miami in the works before Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET trade deadline? There's barely anyone left to trade after the Dolphins sent Drake, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kenny Stills and Laremy Tunsil packing this season (apologies if I forgot anybody, it's been a long fire sale). But after a team-leading four-catch, 59-yard showing against the Steelers, DeVante Parker could be the last Fin to flee the tank.
  1. Miami's imperfect season is still alive, but with Adam Gase and the division-rival Jets flying into town next week, the Dolphins' goose-egg in the win column could be in jeopardy. As for the Steelers, they are suddenly second in the AFC North ahead of the Browns and winless Bengals. Pittsburgh finishes out a three-game home stretch against the Colts and Rams before facing Cleveland on a short week in the Dawg Pound. The next 17 days will define what is not yet a lost season in the Steel City.
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