PITTSBURGH - The notion that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the primary threat to the top-seeded New England Patriots in the AFC playoffs was reinforced quickly and emphatically Sunday at frigid Heinz Field.
The Steelers struck early and often on offense. Their defense never let the Miami Dolphins and fill-in quarterback Matt Moore do much of anything while it still mattered, and the Steelers coasted to a stress-free 30-12 victory in an opening-round postseason game.
The third-seeded Steelers advanced to an AFC semifinal next Sunday in Kansas City against the second-seeded Chiefs. The winner of that game potentially would play the AFC championship game at New England, assuming the Patriots beat the Houston Texans next weekend.
The Steelers' imposing offensive trio of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tailback Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown was far, far more than the sixth-seeded Dolphins could handle Sunday.
Brown took two short passes from Roethlisberger and turned them into long touchdowns in the game's early stages. That was part of a five-catch, 124-yard receiving performance by Brown. Bell ran for two touchdowns in a 29-carry, 167-yard rushing outing. Bell set a postseason team record for rushing yards in a game. Roethlisberger threw two interceptions but completed 13 of 18 passes for 197 yards.
The Miami offense could not keep up. Tailback Jay Ajayi was limited to 33 rushing yards. Moore, starting at quarterback in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill, lost two fumbles and threw an interception. The Dolphins didn't score a touchdown until less than six minutes were left in the game and the Steelers were leading 30-6.
Moore was knocked from the game briefly by a jarring first-half hit by Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree.
Dupree appeared to lead with the crown of his helmet and hit Moore near the quarterback's jaw on a play on which Moore ran to his right toward the Dolphins sideline, looking to throw a pass. Dupree was penalized for the hit. Moore remained on the turf for a few minutes before being helped to the Miami sideline. He remained out of the game for only one play, however, raising questions about how he could have been cleared to return so quickly under the sport's concussion protocol.
The game itself provided little intrigue. On the Steelers' first two possessions alone, Brown had three catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers led 14-0, and never really looked back from there.
Brown's first touchdown came when he took a screen pass and sprinted down the sideline to turn it into a 50-yard play. His second touchdown came when he made the catch on a slant pattern and dashed to the end zone for a 62-yard play.
The Steelers' third touchdown came on Bell's one-yard run early in the second quarter. Officials initially ruled that Bell was stopped by the Dolphins short of the goal line. But Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin challenged the call and Bell was awarded the touchdown.
The Dolphins had a chance just before halftime to make a competitive game of it. They trailed 20-6 and had a first down at the Pittsburgh 8-yard line. But Steelers linebacker James Harrison chased down Moore and knocked the ball from the quarterback's hand. The Steelers recovered the fumble and the game remained noncompetitive.
Pittsburgh added a field goal by kicker Chris Bowell and Bell's eight-yard touchdown run, which came after the Dolphins were offside on a field-goal attempt, in the third quarter. All that was left at that point was to determine the final score and begin thinking ahead to Steelers-Chiefs next weekend.
Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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