Steelers Notebook: Defense blown open again


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Allowing big plays has been a weakness for the Steelers all season, and on Sunday, three more cost them dearly in their 34-28 loss at Heinz Field. The Steelers gave up 360 yards to the Dolphins, and 143 of those came on three plays.

That's 40 percent of Miami's offense on a trio of plays that helped the Dolphins score 17 points.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill ran 48 yards in the first quarter to set up a Caleb Sturgis field goal, the first points of the game for Miami.

Tannehill completed a 40-yard pass to Charles Clay on third-and-4 in the third quarter. The Dolphins scored a touchdown four plays later when Brian Hartline caught a 4-yard pass from Tannehill.

And finally, the biggest play of all was a Daniel Thomas 55-yard run that set up a Clay touchdown catch with 3:02 left.

"We gave up the big plays," outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "As a defense, we can't do that. We gave them up at the wrong time and they capitalized on it."

Thomas' long run was the 11th play of 50 yards or more against the Steelers this season.

"When they needed stops, they got stops, and when they needed big plays, they got big plays," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "I thought we had a chance to close the door, but we just didn't capitalize on it. We just didn't get the job done. You have to tip your hat them."

Milestone for Ben

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns and set the franchise record for most touchdown passes. Roethlisberger has 215 in his career and broke the record that was held by Terry Bradshaw (212).

Roethlisberger has an outside shot to break his record for most touchdown passes in a season. He has 24 with three games remaining. He set the record with 32 in 2007.

Roethlisberger has a more realistic shot at breaking his record for most passing yards in a season. He has 3,724 after throwing for 349 Sunday. He set the franchise record with 4,328 in 2009.

Five for Troy

Troy Polamalu's 19-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter was the fifth defensive touchdown of his career, one shy of the franchise record held by Rod Woodson. Three others also scored five defensive touchdowns -- Carnell Lake, Dwayne Woodruff and Jack Butler.

The interception was the 32nd of Polamalu's career, tying him with Jack Ham and Darren Perry for seventh most in team history.

Costly penalties

Given the circumstances with two starters missing, the patchwork offensive line held up pretty well for most of the game. But new center Cody Wallace and left guard Ramon Foster committed two crucial penalties on back-to-back plays late in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were trying to run out the clock.

The Steelers had the ball at the Miami 43 with 6:21 remaining when Wallace was called for illegal procedure after he double-hitched on his shotgun snap to Roethlisberger as the play clock wound toward zero.

"I was kind of anticipating the snap a little bit," Wallace said. "There was a lot of talking and moving up front. I kind of hitched it a little bit and unfortunately they got me."

On the next play, Foster was called for being illegally down field on a screen pass to Jerricho Cotchery, a penalty that negated a 12-yard gain to the 36.

That made it second-and-19 and the Steelers had to punt it back to the Dolphins after a Roethlisberger pass to Cotchery on third-and-14 was incomplete.

"It didn't look like he was too far down the field," coach Mike Tomlin said of the call on Foster. "I've got to respect the call made by the officials, but I'll review the tape before I pass judgment on that call. We run a bunch of those plays not only in recent weeks but over the course of the season. That hasn't been an issue for us, but I'll respect his call."

Other Wallace gets last laugh

It was no surprise that the biggest media crowd in the Dolphins locker room after the game was gathered in front of Mike Wallace's locker.

Wallace, who left the Steelers as a free agent after four years here, signed a five-year, $60 million deal with Miami.

That left many Steelers fans upset at Wallace, who turned down a Steelers offer for less money.

But it was Wallace who got the last laugh with Miami's win.

"It was different being on the other sideline," Wallace said. "And it's different being in the smaller locker room."

Wallace, decked out in white slacks, a peach and white checkered dress shirt and peach blazer looking very much the South Floridian, didn't do much in the game and hasn't had a great season statistically.

He caught two passes for 19 yards Sunday, giving him 58 catches for 762 yards and three touchdowns on the season. But Wallace has no regrets for making the move.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "But there are great fans and great people here [in Pittsburgh]. I had a great time while I was here. I love and respect everyone here. I will always have them in my heart for my whole life."

Big-play Clay

Wallace may have been the biggest target on the Steelers' radar, but it was Clay who did the most damage.

The third-year tight end from Tulsa scored two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score on a 12-yard pass from Tannehill with 2:53 remaining. On the play, Clay caught the ball in the right flat and broke free from Cortez Allen and Troy Polamalu before rumbling into the end zone.

"That play is just attitude," said Clay, who caught seven passes for 97 yards. "You catch it that close to the goal line, you want to get it into the end zone. Tannehill trusted me enough to come to me in that situation."

That may have been a by-product of Clay's hard work.

"He wants to do all the little things right," Tannehill said. "He listens. I talked through a few adjustments with him. He's right there listening and he executes it well."

Weather not a factor

Many experts thought the cold weather and snow would be enough to slow down the Dolphins, who often have had problems in the elements. But for a player like defensive end Cameron Wake, it's just a game.

"I'm a guy from up north, I played at Penn State and in Canada," Wake said. "[Weather] is just a distraction. You go to Miami, it's 100 [degrees]. You come here, it's 30. It's football."

Draft penalty

If the NFL already decided that the Steelers will forfeit a draft choice because of Tomlin's sideline infraction Thanksgiving night in Baltimore, no one from the league has informed the Steelers.

They have only been told they may have to forfeit a pick in the 2014 NFL draft, not that the decision has been made, team sources told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In fact, they still are under the assumption that a hearing would take place involving them before any decision would be made.

Jason La Canfora of CBS and Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC-TV reported the NFL already has determined the Steelers will lose a draft choice, but that the league will not decide which one until all the compensatory choices are issued. That process usually occurs in March.

Quick hits

* Antonio Brown had 137 yards receiving for his seventh 100-yard game of the season. He has 1,245 yards in 13 games and became the eighth player in franchise history to top 1,200 receiving yards in a season.

* Outside linebacker Jason Worilds led the team with 8 solo tackles, 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. He registered two sacks for the third time this season and for the second consecutive game.

* Heyward had 10 tackles, a sack and one tackle for loss. All four of his sacks have come in the past six games.

* The offensive line has allowed four sacks in the past four games, which is the lowest four-game total since the 2005 season.

Ed Bouchette and Jerry Micco contributed. Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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