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(Sunday, January 3rd)
Final Score: Pittsburgh 30, Miami 24
Miami, FL (Sports Network) - Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes and Jeff Reed kicked three field goals, as the Pittsburgh Steelers temporarily kept their playoff hopes alive with a 30-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium.
Both teams entered the contest with a slim chance of reaching the playoffs, each needing a win and some help. The Dolphins (7-9) were then eliminated by virtue of their loss Sunday, while the Steelers (9-7) were officially ousted after a win by Baltimore later Sunday.
Pittsburgh's elimination now assures that the league will crown a new champion at this year's Super Bowl. The Steelers, who needed losses by Baltimore, Denver and the Jets to advance to postseason play, have failed to make the playoffs in the following year of their last two title runs, having gone 8-8 in 2006 after beating the Seahawks in the previous season's title game.
Miami had even slimmer hopes, needing a win and losses by four teams to make the playoffs for a second time in as many seasons under Tony Sparano. Instead, the defending AFC East champs finished with a losing record for the third time in the past four years.
The Dolphins lost a pair of quarterbacks to injury during the game. Starter Chad Henne remained on the sideline to start the second half after suffering an eye injury and watched as Pat White took a devastating helmet-to-helmet hit from Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor late in the third quarter. White had to be carted to the locker room and was seen moving his hands.
Miami still nearly rallied with Tyler Thigpen at the helm, roaring back from a 27-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to pull within three before an interception near the Pittsburgh end zone thwarted the effort.
"That game right there is a snapshot of how it's been for us," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, whose squad won its final three games. "But how the guys fought is also a snapshot of how it's been for us. They knuckled down and hung together and they did the best of their ability to fix it and won our last three ball games and gave ourselves a chance. We handled our business in here today; did all that we can do. It wasn't easy, it never is."
Thigpen came out for the Dolphins down 27-10 early in the fourth quarter and directed a 61-yard drive for a touchdown. Two Pittsburgh penalties aided the seven-play march, which ended with a 16-yard scoring run by receiver Brian Hartline.
The Dolphins got the ball right back after Pittsburgh went three-and-out and struck just three plays later when Thigpen found Davone Bess behind the Steeler secondary for a 34-yard score.
Roethlisberger fumbled on Pittsburgh's ensuing series and former Steeler Joey Porter recovered for the Dolphins at the Steeler 13. However, Thigpen was picked off by Ryan Clark at the two-yard line with just over six minutes left.
The Steelers picked up a critical first down when Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward on 3rd-and-5, then drove through the deflated Miami defense and had a touchdown nullified by a penalty before Reed kicked a 33-yard field goal to make it a six-point game with 40 seconds remaining.
Thigpen's last pass was intercepted by Taylor to end Miami's season.
The Dolphins were eliminated from playoff contention late in the fourth quarter when Houston rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat New England. The Texans were one of the four teams that had to lose for Miami to stay alive.
Pittsburgh, which also could have benefited from a Houston loss, took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards for a 7-0 lead. Roethlisberger kept the series alive with a 10-yard completion to Mike Wallace on 3rd-and-7 and added a 37-yard strike to tight end Heath Miller before capping the 12-play march with a five-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes on another third down.
Miami answered with a nine-play drive on its first series to tie it as Henne threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Lex Hilliard out of the backfield, but the Steelers immediately went back in front when Roethlisberger -- two plays after converting 4th-and-inches with a quarterback sneak -- threw a 54-yard TD pass to a wide open Wallace in the final minute of the first quarter.
The Dolphins responded with a six-minute series that ended with a 25-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter to make it 14-10 game, but Pittsburgh countered with a 22-yard Reed kick with just over 5 1/2 minutes to play in the half.
A trade of interceptions followed. Henne was picked off by Deshea Townsend on the first play after the kickoff at the Miami 41 and the Steelers failed on a gadget play, as Roethlisberger threw backward to Holmes, whose pass toward the end zone was grabbed by Miami safety Yeremiah Bell.
The Dolphins drove to the Pittsburgh 23 before going backward thanks to a bad shotgun snap and a sack in the final minute, forcing a punt.
With White under center to start the second half, the Dolphins managed just one first down on their first two possessions before the Steelers extended their lead on their second series of the third period.
Roethlisberger capped a 90-yard drive with a three-yard scoring toss to Miller in the back of the end zone. After White was hurt on the next series, the Steelers followed a Miami punt with a 21-yard Reed field goal for a 27-10 advantage just over a minute into the fourth.
White missed on both of his two pass attempts and ran for 27 yards, while Henne completed 16-of-20 throws for 140 yards in the first half.
"It's definitely too early. I have no reflection on the season right now. Sit down and watch tape. From my end, when you turn the ball over the number of times that we turned it over this season, and give up the number of big plays that we've given up this season, you're 7-9," Sparano said.
Roethlisberger, who appeared to injure his arm on the fumble in the fourth quarter, finished 18-of-27 for 220 yards...Five times this season, the Steelers lost when holding a fourth-quarter lead...Thigpen completed 4-of-8 passes for 83 yards in his first action with Miami, which acquired him from Kansas City in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick after Chad Pennington was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
01/04 00:33:30 ET
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