Don’t look now but the Steelers, even in their trying season, aren’t completely done

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, their victory at home Monday night over the winless Miami Dolphins wasn’t as routine as they might have hoped. But it nevertheless was a victory, orchestrated by fill-in quarterback Mason Rudolph after a shaky beginning in his return to the lineup after missing a game because of a concussion.

And the Steelers, as a result, moved a step closer to reassembling their once-broken season.

They had to erase an early two-touchdown deficit and endure some boos by their home crowd at Heinz Field for their sluggish start on offense. But they persevered and scored 27 straight points to prevail, 27-14, and keep the tanking allegations against the Dolphins in play.


“Our defense continued to play great football, giving us turnovers, giving us opportunities,” Rudolph told ESPN afterward. “We just kept working. This group has a lot of leadership. We’re not out of it just because of a turnover early in the game. We’re gonna keep fighting. We’re gonna keep coming back. I thought we put together a lot of good drives there at the end.”

Rudolph threw touchdown passes to wide receivers Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Tailback James Conner added a touchdown run as part of his 145-yard rushing performance before he exited the game late with a shoulder injury, the severity of which was not immediately clear. The Steelers improved to 3-4 with their second straight win.

It has been a season in which little has gone as scripted for the Steelers. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent season-ending elbow surgery. The team’s addition-by-subtraction plan following the offseason exits of tailback Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown was a bust. Rudolph, starting in place of Roethlisberger, suffered a concussion on a scary hit by Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas and the Steelers had to turn temporarily to third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges.

But they’ve kept things from unraveling completely and they’re back within a game of .500 as their season nears the midway point.

Rudolph’s first pass Monday was intercepted. The Steelers failed on a fourth-down attempt and had to recover a fumble by Rudolph on a sack before punting. But they turned things around in the second quarter, pulling within 14-10 on Johnson’s 45-yard catch and run for a touchdown on a third-and-20 play 17 seconds before halftime.

“You’ve got to move on,” Rudolph said. “You’ve got to clear the slate and play the next play. I thought I did that and I thought we did that as an offense. You’ve got to play the next play and have a short memory.”

Johnson’s long touchdown just before the half changed the tone of the game. The Dolphins had only themselves to blame for a questionable defensive approach. They blitzed Rudolph and didn’t get to him, and they left Johnson wide open in the middle of the field while giving extra attention in the secondary to Smith-Schuster.

“It was really soft coverage, pretty much cover zero across the board and they doubled JuJu,” Rudolph said. “So he [Smith-Schuster] makes his plays and he also makes plays for other guys.”

From there, the Steelers never looked back as they extended their home winning streak on “Monday Night Football” to 18 games.

Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, traded to the Steelers as part of the Dolphins’ dismantling, had two interceptions against his former team. Both led to Pittsburgh touchdowns. Conner’s touchdown came after the Steelers won an instant replay challenge in the final seconds of the third quarter, overturning the on-field ruling that Ryan Fitzpatrick had gotten a first down for the Dolphins on a fourth-and-one quarterback keeper. The replay ruling came after a lengthy delay and enraged Dolphins Coach Brian Flores, who vented his displeasure to the on-field officials.

The Steelers had been the only NFL team without a successful replay challenge since the start of the 2017 season, according to ESPN, despite the fact that Coach Mike Tomlin is a member of the league’s rule-making competition committee.

The Dolphins dropped to 0-7 amid the tanking accusations that have accompanied their trades of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills, Minkah Fitzpatrick and running back Kenyan Drake to stockpile draft choices. They’ve gotten close to winning in recent weeks, with a failed two-point conversion that would have beaten the Washington Redskins and a lost fourth-quarter lead in Buffalo.

Things looked promising Monday when Fitzpatrick threw first-quarter touchdown passes to wide receivers Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns. But this is the 2019 Dolphins. And, whether by design or not, they moved a step closer to a 0-16 season and the top overall selection in the 2020 draft.