MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- James Harrison played his game, without incident this time. He changed his game just once, admitting he pulled up rather than knocking Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown into kingdom come because he had fines and suspensions on his mind.
"Other than one play, I was fine," said Harrison, who found himself fined $75,000 and at the epicenter of an NFL crackdown on hard hits the past week.
"Ronnie was coming across the middle, and I had a chance to hit him where it looked like maybe he was going to slide or fall down and I didn't. [Larry] Foote tackled him. So, luckily, he went down.
"I would have ended up hitting him high because he ended up sliding. Even though I would have been aiming low, I would have ended up hitting him helmet to helmet."
And no matter who is at fault these days, the NFL has sent out a strong message that it will not stand for such hits.
Harrison, speaking publicly for the first time since his one-day "retirement" from football Wednesday, spoke calmly about the fine and its aftermath.
"Maybe if that was the only hit that happened, mine, it wouldn't have transpired the way it did," Harrison said of a rash of hits last week that prompted the NFL to issue 15 fines for plays last weekend. "But there were three or four other hits in the matter of 20 or 30 minutes. It caused a real media storm, and I guess they felt they had to do something and they got everybody."
Harrison had four tackles Sunday, but no sacks nor forced fumbles nor anything close to a controversial hit. He did leap over the head of fullback Lousaka Polite on one pass rush, only to fall to the ground.
"I thought he was going to cut me so I jumped, and he was able to catch me at the last second," Harrison explained.
The Steelers lost their second starting defensive end in two games when Aaron Smith left early in the third quarter with a torn triceps muscle in his left arm. The third arm injury in his past four seasons, this one also could end his year. He missed 11 games last season with a knee injury and a rotator cuff injury and his 2007 season ended with a torn biceps, both to his right arm.
Coach Mike Tomlin revealed the extent of the injury, which occurred early in the third quarter, and said, "it is not good.''
Linebacker James Farrior, the defensive captain, called the injury to Smith "devastating."
"It's heartbreaking to see a guy work so hard to get back and have an injury like this," Farrior said. "I know he's devastated, I'm devastated and I'm sure everybody else is. To see a guy come out and just do everything right and get himself back to where he needs to be and have something like this happens is definitely frustrating."
Two other starters also left the game with injuries, both in the first half. Starting offensive right tackle Flozell Adams has a sprained ankle and linebacker LaMarr Woodley has a pulled hamstring.
Woodley predicted he will play Sunday night in New Orleans. Jonathan Scott replaced Adams and likely would start if needed. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons moved to Woodley's spot on the left in the base 3-4 defense, but rookie Jason Worilds played there in the passing defenses. It was Worilds who hit Miami quarterback Chad Henne, causing his final pass to fall incomplete.
Rookie Emmanuel Sanders did a nice job returning kickoffs -- after he fumbled the opening kick that led to a quick, 3-0 lead for the Dolphins.
Sanders returned five kicks for an average of 28.8 yards (he also caught a pass for 18). His most important return was his last one when, after the Dolphins took a 22-20 lead, he ran the kickoff back 48 yards to Miami's 48 to give the Steelers a shot at the winning drive.
They converted it, in bizarre fashion, but he got it all started.
"The big thing is that he bounced back," Tomlin said. "Young guys are going to make mistakes. Hopefully, they are not mistakes of that nature -- putting the ball on the ground. ... But, as an individual, Emmanuel really bounced back. He moved the chains for us offensively on third down again this week. Of course, our kickoff return game was excellent as the game wore on."
Despite the win, Tomlin wasn't satisfied. "We weren't very good today, but [the Dolphins] had a lot to do with it ... We have to be better than we were today."
Tomlin wasn't just talking about his players. He included himself because of a curious decision he made at the end of the first half with the Steelers leading, 17-16. On third-and-12 from the Miami 36, Tomlin, despite having two timeouts, allowed the clock to run down before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for a 3-yard loss. That's how the half ended.
"I screwed that up," Tomlin said. "I have to give Jeff [Reed] an opportunity [to kick a field goal]. I know it was 56, 57 or 58, but I have given Jeff those opportunities before, especially with the wind at his back."
Reed kicked the winning, 18-yard field goal after the controversial call on a fumble by Roethlisberger. "The situation was bizarre," Reed said. "It was a short one, but it's the toughest 18-yard field goal that I've kicked."
Tomlin praised his defense, which held the Dolphins to two field goals after early Steelers turnovers gave Miami possession at the Steelers' 22 and 13. "When we needed them at the beginning, when we tripped over ourselves coming out of the locker room, they gave us a shot. I can't talk enough about those first two possessions. Being down, 6-0, was big under those circumstances."
The Dolphins also couldn't stop talking about those first two drives resulting in only field goals. "Obviously, we needed touchdowns," Miami coach Tony Sparano said.
Added offensive tackle Jake Long, "Field goals aren't good enough, especially when you play a team like that."
The Dolphins are 0-3 at their Sun Life Stadium and 3-0 on the road.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . The Post-Gazette's Ron Cook contributed to this report.