Can the Pittsburgh Steelers stop Mike Wallace Sunday when he returns to Heinz Field as a Miami Dolphin?
If Ike Taylor continues to struggle, the speed that burned Steelers opponents from 2009 to 2012 could burn the Steelers in a game they must win to have any realistic chance of making the playoffs.
Taylor might get a little help covering Wallace, however. And we’re not just talking about safety help.
We’re talking about help from Mother Nature.
According to NFLweather.com, snow is expected for Sunday’s game. A slippery field might slow down Wallace a little.
If it does snow, it wouldn’t be the first time the Dolphins and Steelers have played each other against a backdrop of extreme weather.
Ben Roethlisberger’s first career start came in the wake of Hurricane Jeanne at Miami in 2004.
According to a story in The New York Times, the storm knocked out the power in the Steelers’ hotel the night before the game. Unable to watch TV in their rooms, Steelers players gathered in the hallway in a college-dorm kind of way.
When news came that their 1 p.m. game the next day was moved to a night game because of the hurricane, their curfew was pushed back and the players kept talking and hanging out together late into the night.
This departure from their night-before-the-game routine was a bonding experience for the Steelers, who defeated the Dolphins 13-3 the following night. The team chemistry forged in that dark hotel helped spark 15 straight victories that catapulted the fresh-faced Roethlisberger to stardom.
The 15-1 Steelers lost at home to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game that year, but they became a Super Bowl-caliber team and broke a 26-year championship drought in 2005.
The Steelers missed the playoffs in 2006 but were 7-3 when they met the winless Dolphins at Pittsburgh on a Monday night in 2007.
Again the Mother Nature stole the show.
“November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses would have been an appropriate soundtrack for this game. A newly sodded Heinz Field was full of puddles as the Steelers splish-splashed their way to a 3-0 victory.
At one point in the game, a punt hit the ground and didn’t move. The ball literally was stuck in the mud.
Like he did in the rainy remnants of Hurricane Jeanne three years earlier, Hines Ward led the Steelers with nine receptions in that 2007 game. Three of them came on the game-winning drive.
The game was scoreless until Jeff Reed, fittingly wearing No. 3, kicked a 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds left in regulation. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers didn’t score until they allowed Roethlisberger to run the no-huddle on their final drive.
There have been no 3-0 games in the NFL since then. The Dolphins have been involved in two of the last three NFL games that have ended in a 3-0 score. They lost both of them on field goals late in the fourth quarter.
Weather also was a factor in 1982, when the New England Patriots beat the Dolphins 3-0 in the “Snowplow” game.
According to ESPN.com, Patriots coach Ron Meyer ordered snowplow driver Mark Henderson, who was on a prison work-release program, to clear a spot on the snow-covered field for John Smith to kick a 33-yard field goal.
Dolphins coach Don Shula wasn’t too thrilled.
Like they did in 2007, the Steelers host the Dolphins in their first game after Thanksgiving.
If snow does accumulate on the Heinz Field turf and the Steelers need a field goal from Shaun Suisham to win the game, there will be no plowing.
Shula’s gripe led to the banning of snowplows during games in 1983.
Besides, since Sunday’s game is the first of four the Steelers must win to have any hope of making the playoffs, their level of preparation should transcend any reliance on snow removal equipment, Mother Nature or even Mike Tomlin’s foot.
The Dolphins (6-6) are a game ahead of the Steelers (5-7) in the race for the final playoff spot in the AFC. A win would give the Steelers the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins, which would come in handy as the playoff picture is sorted out.
A Steelers loss would give the Dolphins a two-game lead over the Steelers with three to play. That would mean the Steelers would have to win their last three games and the Dolphins would have to lose their last three just for the Steelers to finish ahead of the Dolphins, and these are just two teams among the many that are making like a Black Friday crowd fighting for that last playoff spot.
The Steelers have beaten the Dolphins five straight times. They haven’t lost to them since 1998. They haven’t lost to the Dolphins at home since 1990.
Sunday is no time to let either of those streaks end.