Playing on a football field that at times looked like a fourth river, the Steelers fought through rain, wind, muck and the winless Dolphins eight times to get into Miami territory last night without scoring a point.
And on their ninth and final time, Jeff Reed mercifully sent a 24-yard field-goal try through the uprights with 17 seconds left to save everyone from watching and playing any more.
Reed's score pulled out a 3-0 victory for the Steelers on a night in which it appeared someone might pull out a carp at the 25-yard line. It was the lowest-scoring Steelers victory in club history.
"We play in Pittsburgh," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who made several tough catches among his nine for 88 yards. "The weather and the field are not going to be perfect all the time."
Newly sodded Heinz Field, turned marshy by constant rain, looked as imperfect last night as the 0-11 Dolphins.
The Dolphins, more than two touchdown underdogs, matched the Steelers in offensive impotency through much of the game. However, the Steelers' constant forays into Dolphins territory finally paid off in the end.
The closest the Steelers came to scoring on their first eight possessions was Reed's 44-yard field-goal try into the wind and rain that sailed badly to the left late in the third quarter.
That kick taught Reed a lesson for his next one. He said he took his normal stride on the miss and decided to take choppier steps on the winning kick.
Willie Parker topped 1,000 yards rushing for the season in the third quarter. He gained 88 yards on nine carries. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tied a team record with 15 consecutive completions. He was 18 of 21 for 165 yards with one interception and performed particularly well in the final drive when they used a no-huddle.
Late in the game, Roethlisberger talked to coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
"Just let me throw the ball," he said to them. "I know I can win this game."
He completed three passes to Ward of 21, 6 and 11 yards on the drive to put them close for a Reed try.
"Hines Ward was big tonight," Tomlin said. "He was Hines Ward, and we needed every one of those catches."
The victory maintained the Steelers' lead in the AFC North Division with a 8-3 record, one better than Cleveland.
Ward said the field and rain turned his gloves wet and muddy, his feet wet and his legs heavy.
"It was terrible," he said.
Roethlisberger, looking often for Ward in the first quarter, threw a pass from Miami's 25, but it was short and linebacker Joey Porter picked it off. Porter ran 15 yards before Roethlisberger tackled him near the Steelers' bench, and the linebacker held the ball and walked the length of the bench taunting his former teammates.
It was the first of five unsuccessful trips in a row into Miami territory in the first half.
The second ended shortly after cornerback Will Allen sacked and stripped Roethlisberger of the ball for a 12-yard loss from the 35. The third ended when Najeh Davenport lost a yard when Tomlin ordered his offense to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Miami 40.
The fourth foray across the 50 ended after Roethlisberger completed a 20-yard pass to Ward at Miami's 27, but a holding penalty against Davenport wiped that out.
That series began after Ricky Williams fumbled in his first NFL appearance in two seasons. He carried six times for 15 yards before leaving the game with 7:26 to go with a shoulder injury.
The Steelers' fifth possession was their deepest penetration. They had a second-and-2 at the Miami 24, and after Parker picked up a yard, Roethlisberger completed a 4-yard pass on third down to Ward to the 19. It would have been a first down, but tight end Heath Miller was called for holding, and Roethlisberger was sacked on the next play.
Rather than try a long field goal, Daniel Sepulveda punted from the 36.
The second half began much the way the first half did for the Steelers -- they drove into Miami territory but did not score. Jason Taylor sacked Roethlisberger on third down at the Miami 45 to end the drive.
At 3:55 of the third quarter, Miami's Brandon Fields punted 38 yards and the ball hit the mushy field and stuck, point up, at the Miami 48. The Steelers came closer to scoring than on their previous six possessions but still came away with nothing.
Parker ran four times in a row for 23 yards, his last pushing him over 1,000 yards for the season. But on third-and-1 at the 25, Davenport lost a yard off the left side.
Reed came in to try a 44-yard field goal into the wind and rain and it sailed badly to the left.
The Dolphins reached the Steelers' 20 in the fourth quarter and, on fourth down, Jay Feely tried a 38-yard field goal into the open end of the field, the same end as Reed's miss. His kick was low and blocked, but Miami was called for a delay of game, moving the ball back to the 25 and giving the Dolphins another shot.
Instead of trying a 43-yard field goal, Miami opted to try for the first down. Quarterback John Beck dropped back to pass on fourth-and-11 and was sacked by James Harrison. Beck fumbled, too, and Aaron Smith recovered.
"I think they should have let him kick it," Reed said. "I was shocked they didn't kick. The field was better for him after the penalty."
That started the Steelers' eighth drive and for the eighth time, they crossed the 50. They came up 0 for 8 when -- on third-and-5 at the 33 -- Roethlisberger scrambled to his right and Vonnie Holliday sacked him.
Finally, on their ninth series, the Steelers cracked the scoreboard and sent everyone home.
The drive began after Miami punted from its 5 and the Steelers took over at the Miami 42.
Ward caught three passes but the Steelers still faced a third-and-3 at the 12. Then, in an empty-set backfield, Roethlisberger completed a 6-yard pass to Willie Reid for a first down at the 6. It was Roethlisberger's 15th consecutive completion.
"I told Willie Reid that we don't need to score, just catch the ball," Roethlisberger said. "It was a low ball and he went down on one knee and caught it for the first down."
On third down at the 5, Roethlisberger was sacked for the fifth time, bringing Reed on to win it.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com . First Published November 27, 2007 5:00 AM