Nope, these Steelers are completely different. The last meeting with the Dolphins marked the start of a four-game losing streak. Sunday's 30-12 wild-card playoff victory is now Pittsburgh's eighth-straight win. The reasons are varied and obviously start with an offense that features Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. But a resurgent defense also deserves substantial credit. The group was treaded by Jay Ajayi in the first meeting; he finished with 207 rushing yards. On Sunday? Ajayi was never a threat and had just 33 yards.
But more than that, the Steelers' secondary has gelled over the last two months, and a big reason is because of the team's top two 2016 draft picks: Cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis. The unit was a sieve during the month-long losing streak but finished the regular season ranked 11th against the pass and 12th against the run.
Which brings us to the front seven and the Steelers' 2016 third-round pick, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. The third rookie starter on the Pittsburgh defense has been a godsend. Fifteen years his senior and arguably more important: 38-year-old James Harrison, who forced a huge second-quarter fumble and says he's stronger now than at any point in his storied career. Oh, there's also 2015 first-rounder Bud Dupree and 2014 first-rounder Ryan Shazier, who have also been integral cogs in the turnaround.
And while nothing went right for the Dolphins on Sunday, there is plenty to look forward to. For starters, first-year coach Adam Gase is for real. He took a 1-4 team and led them to a 10-6 mark, and did it over the final three weeks without franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Yes, Miami's playoff win drought still goes back to 2000, but this team looks like it will be an annual threat to return to the postseason, and that's the silver lining to Sunday's setback.
Here are for more takeaways from Sunday's wild-card game:
The Three B's
The name isn't particularly original but you know exactly what we're talking about. The Steelers are playoff regulars during the Ben Roethlisberger era, making nine appearances during his 13-year career. But here's something that had never happened until Sunday: Big Ben, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell hadn't been on the field together during the postseason. Bell was injured in 2014 and 2015, and Brown ended up missing last year's divisional matchup against the Broncos after Vontaze Burfict tried to decapitate him in the wild-card game.
It didn't take long to see what kind of impact the Three B's would have. Here are how the Steelers' first two drives ended:
And with seven minutes left in the first quarter, the Steelers led 14-0 and the game was effectively over.
But Pittsburgh was just getting warmed up. Le'Veon Bell also scored two touchdowns and his patience, as always seems to happen, was rewarded time and again against a Dolphins defense helpless to do anything about it.
There's more: Bell had 29 carries for 167 yards. That's a Steelers single-game playoff record, breaking the previous mark held by Hall of Famer Franco Harris. Not a bad day at the office.
Matt Moore got obliterated ... and kept playing
The NFL had made great advancements in head-injury research and prevention. And it's important that they now have independent neurologists on the sidelines evaluating players. But it's hard to reconcile a commitment to safety with the the sight of Matt Moore trotting back out onto the field after getting destroyed by Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree:
A play after that happened Moore was back in the huddle, where he remained for the final two-plus quarters. Again, a neurologist gave Moore the green light to return but common sense suggests that there's no reason to put him back on the field minutes after he was helped off.
Can't concuss a detached head I guess. pic.twitter.com/KNKWA2k0gl— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 8, 2017
This ref reacting like the rest us. I can't believe Moore is still playing. pic.twitter.com/VyZZ7TvU44— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) January 8, 2017
Dolphins might want to pay attention to Uncle Luke
Luther Campbell is best known for his 2 Live Crew roots, but the South Florida resident and Dolphins fan knows his football. Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is a hot coaching candidate, but he didn't seem to have an answer for the Steelers' offense. So after Ben-to-Brown led to an early 14-point lead, Campbell tweeted this:
Dolphins better go back to Two high Brown from Miami Norland is going to kill them— LUTHER R CAMPBELL (@unclelukereal1) January 8, 2017
And he was exactly right about Roethlisberger's knack for turnovers:
This Dolphins game is about the linebackers making tackles Big Ben it's good for another turnover— LUTHER R CAMPBELL (@unclelukereal1) January 8, 2017
Of course, the Dolphins had their own turnover issues, losing the football on three consecutive possessions. Those turnovers came on the final drive of the first half that cost Miami at least three points, and on the first two drives of the third quarter that resulted in 10 Pittsburgh points. Here's the final turnover, an interception courtesy of the aforementioned Shazier:
After the pick the Dolphins' defense stiffened and held the Steelers to 8 yards. But on fourth and 3 ... this happened:
Tony Lippett should've kept running -- right through the tunnel and all the way back to Miami. That play served as a microcosm of the Dolphins' afternoon. And instead of holding the Steelers to a field goal, Bell scored two plays later, widening the lead to 30-7 late in the third quarter.
Steelers should have pulled stars earlier
Look, it's easy to armchair quarterback when you have nothing at stake, but we're hard-pressed to believe that when the Steelers went up 30-7 with just a quarter to play, they needed Big Ben, Bell and Brown on the field. Those reasons seemed curious at the time and even more so now in light of this latest development:
Ben in a walking boot coming into his press conference. Vows to play next week. Hurt on last offensive play. Needless and inexcusable injury— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 8, 2017
Good news: Roethlisberger promises to play!
Bad news: It didn't have to happen. You could make the argument that backup Landry Jones should have been in for those final 15 minutes but on three occasions -- at the 11:24 mark, the 5:57 mark and the 15-second mark -- Big Ben was out there.
It seems instructive to mention this:
Is Mike Tomlin aware of what happened to Derek Carr, and what subsequently happened to the Raiders? Why are Ben, Brown and Bell still in?— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) January 8, 2017
And while Roethlisberger says he'll play next Sunday against the Chiefs, if he's not 100 percent there's no one to blame but the coaching staff.
Ben will play next week, I don't know how impacted he'll be, but this is why continuing to play your stars in games that are over is idiotic— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 8, 2017
Or as our colleague John Breech said more bluntly to us during the fourth quarter, "If Ben, Brown or Bell gets hurt, Tomlin should be fired."
Terry Bradshaw would no doubt love that.
Live blog recap
Below, you'll find our live blog of the game.