Dolphins blow best chance at first win with ill-timed blitz vs. Steelers

For almost 30 minutes of football on Monday, the Miami Dolphins looked like a competent NFL team.

Their defense regularly swarmed Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph while Ryan Fitzpatrick invoked Fitzmagic for a pair of touchdowns to lead Miami to a 14-0 first-half lead.

Then they blew it.

Former Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick, setting off a late first-half Dolphins implosion that carried over into the second half of a 27-14 Steelers win.

The game fell apart for Miami after Fitzpatrick’s interception, primed by an aggressive defensive play call that opened the door for the first Steelers touchdown.

What were Dolphins coaches thinking?

With 17 seconds remaining in the first half, the Steelers found themselves in third-and-20 at the Miami 45-yard line.

The primary job of the defense in this situation is to protect against the big touchdown play with a secondary focus on keeping the opponent out of field goal range. A three- or four-man rush with multiple defenders in a deep zone is generally the prescribed play call in this situation.

Instead, the Dolphins blitzed eight, leaving three helpless defenders in the secondary with no chance of stopping speedy Steelers wide receiver Dionte Johnson when Rudolph found him streaking over the middle for a 45-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

It was a bizarre play call from the Dolphins sideline of head coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and it may have cost Miami a win.

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Steelers take complete control after Johnson TD

The touchdown cut the Dolphins lead to 14-10 and was a pivotal moment as Pittsburgh reeled off 27 unanswered points to take control of the game.

Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick again in the third quarter, leading to another Steelers touchdown drive to take a 17-14 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Steelers defense was dominant for the rest of the game, shutting Miami out in the second half. Pittsburgh held onto the ball for more than 35 minutes while forcing four Dolphins turnovers on the night.

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner starred on offense with Smith-Schuster tallying 103 receiving yards and a touchdown and Conner running for 145 yards and a score.

James Conner injured

Conner walked off the field to the locker late in the game. Head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters after the game that he suffered an AC joint (shoulder) injury, but did not have details on the severity.

The loss drops the Dolphins to 0-7, while the Steelers improve to 3-4 with the win.

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James Conner through his career
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James Conner through his career
FILE - This May 21, 2019, file photo shows Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) making a catch during an NFL football practice in Pittsburgh. Conner doesn't have to answer questions about Le'Veon Bell anymore. He is firmly entrenched as the starter entering his third season but welcomes the chance to share the load with Jaylen Samuels and rookie Benny Snell Jr. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers arrives at the 8th Annual NFL Honors at The Fox Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Atlanta. (Photo by Paul Abell/Invision for NFL/AP Images)
James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers arrives at the 8th Annual NFL Honors at The Fox Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Atlanta. (Photo by Paul Abell/Invision for NFL/AP Images)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) runs away from Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Shawn Williams (36) in the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) celebrates his touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) runs as Denver Broncos strong safety Darian Stewart (26) pursues during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Denver. Conner fumbled on the play and the Broncos recovered. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner, left, scores a touchdown in front of Baltimore Ravens free safety Eric Weddle in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) acknowledges fans as he leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh. v(AP Photo/Don Wright)
FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2018, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) celebrates with wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) after scoring a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh. Amid the distractions - from Le'Veon Bell's extended absence to the seemingly weekly turmoil around Antonio Brown - the Pittsburgh Steelers are about where they expected to be in mid-October: chasing another AFC North title. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner, left, takes a handoff from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers franchise tagged star running back Le'Veon Bell still hasn't shown up for any practices, so it looks like Roethilsberger will continue to be handing off to Conner when the Steelers start the regular season against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back and University of Pittsburgh alumnus James Conner, left, gives some direction to Pittsburgh defensive back Jordan Whitehead (9) before he runs the 40-yard dash during the NCAA football team's annual pro-day, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Pro Day is intended to showcase talent to NFL scouts for the upcoming draft. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers rookies James Conner, left, and T.J. Watts wait to participate in throwing out the first pitch before a baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (4) and Wisconsin running back Corey Clement (2) watch offensive linemen run the 40-yard dash at the NFL football scouting combine Friday, March 3, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) walks off of the field following their win against Syracuse in an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.(AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) drives the ball against Northwestern defensive end Xavier Washington (56) during the first quarter of the Pinstripe Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) reacts following a touchdown by his teammate against Syracuse during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.(AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) runs in for a touchdown against Syracuse during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.(AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) runs the ball during an NCAA college football game against Duke in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) runs for yardage as Clemson safety Van Smith (23) and Dorian O'Daniel (6) defend during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) and Jaryd Jones-Smith (55) celebrate a 37-34 win over Georgia Tech after a NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) reacts after running in for a touchdown against Marshall during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)
Pittsburgh's James Conner (24) runs against North Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) lines up for a play during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Villanova in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
University of Pittsburgh junior running back James Conner accepts his 2015 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team trophy at the Shadyside Boys and Girls Club in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Tuesday, Sept. 15 after being named to the esteemed team for the positive impact he has made on others and in the community. (Ed Rieker/AP Images for Allstate)
Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) runs in for a touchdown in an NCAA football game between the Pittsburgh and Youngstown State, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Still spots for wins on Dolphins schedule

All hope for a win in Miami isn’t loss. They still have two games remaining against the New York Jets and a Week 16 slate with the Cincinnati Bengals that could end up being a battle of winless teams.

But for any Dolphins faithful who invested in the first half against the Steelers, Monday’s loss amounts to a massive disappointment.

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