NFL: Steelers beat Dolphins 30-24 but miss playoffs
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI — On the brink of elimination from the playoff race, the Pittsburgh Steelers averted a fourth-quarter collapse to extend their season.
It ended three hours later.
The reigning Super Bowl champions sent two Miami quarterbacks to the sideline, including Pat White with a scary head injury, and beat the Dolphins 30-24 Sunday. But Pittsburgh (9-7) was eliminated when Baltimore clinched an AFC wild-card berth by winning at Oakland, 21-13.
"I'd rather we go out with a win than a loss," said Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three touchdown passes.
The Dolphins (7-9), who won the AFC East last season, were eliminated with 2 minutes left in their game when Houston beat New England. The Dolphins spent much of the season trying to recover from an 0-3 start, climbed above .500 for the first time at 7-6, then lost their final three games.
Their drought without a playoff win is now nine seasons long.
"I told the team 7-9 is mediocre, and mediocrity is not going to be accepted here," second-year coach Tony Sparano said.
Pittsburgh was undone by losses to the woeful Chiefs, Raiders and Browns in a span of 19 days during a late-season five-game losing streak.
"We didn't do what we were supposed to do and take care of our business," receiver Santonio Holmes said. "Therefore we have to suffer with what happens."
Plenty of Steelers fans stayed with their team until the end. Many in the stadium wore black and gold, and the visiting team provided lots to cheer about.
LaMarr Woodley led the defensive charge with two sacks, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hurries. Rashard Mendenhall ran for 94 yards and Willie Parker added 91.
But the crowd grew silent when White was carted off the field with a head injury following a helmet-to-helmet collision with cornerback Ike Taylor. White moved his arms and legs before leaving the field after an eight-minute delay, and he was taken to a hospital for examination.
"I told him, 'I hope you feel better, man,'" said Taylor, who was unhurt. "You never want to see a guy down like that. He kept repeating, 'Thanks,' and I just kept telling him to get better."
Miami starter Chad Henne sat out the second half with an eye injury that blurred his vision, and when the rookie White departed with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, Tyler Thigpen made his first appearance for the Dolphins.
They trailed 27-10 before Thigpen led touchdown drives on his first two series.
"It irritates the heck out of you," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "But I didn't sense a great deal of panic. The guys made the necessary plays to keep us in it."
With 6 minutes left and the score 27-24, Joey Porter recovered Roethlisberger's fumble on a sack at the Steelers 13 to give Miami a chance to take the lead. But Thigpen was intercepted by Ryan Clark at the 2.
Roethlisberger appeared to favor his throwing arm during the next possession, but he led Pittsburgh on a 14-play, 83-yard drive. It ended with Jeff Reed's third field goal for a 30-24 lead with 40 seconds left.
Taylor intercepted Thigpen on Miami's next play to seal the outcome.
"Unlucky there at the end throwing two interceptions," Thigpen said. "Both I would like to get back."
The Steelers never had to turn to their backup quarterback, but Roethlisberger said he needed to see a doctor after the game. He declined to discuss his injury.
Pittsburgh found some consolation in winning its final three games after the five-game skid.
"There are a lot of teams that are capable of going 6-10 facing the circumstances this group was faced with," Tomlin said. "They knuckled down, they hung together. They did the best of their ability to fix it. We won the last three ball games and gave ourselves a chance."
Roethlisberger finished with 26 touchdown passes by throwing for scores covering 5 yards to Holmes, 54 yards to Mike Wallace and 3 yards to Heath Miller. Roethlisberger passed for 220 yards and ended the season at 4,328.
The Steelers added 202 yards rushing, held Ricky Williams to 31 and came up with three interceptions.
"We finished the season the way we were supposed to," Holmes said.