Monday, January 09, 2017

Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers put rest of AFC on notice

Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writer 8, 2017
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs through a tackle by Miami Dolphins free safety Bacarri Rambo during the first half of an AFC wild-card game in Pittsburgh, Sunday.(AP)
PITTSBURGH -- This was more than an AFC wild-card game Sunday at Heinz Field. This was a bitter-cold beatdown and a reintroduction of the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Kansas City ChiefsNew England Patriots or whomever else.
The most dangerous team in the AFC resides in Pittsburgh, where the Miami Dolphins came for a game and got a street fight as the Steelers won 30-12.
The only thing holding Pittsburgh back right now is the lack of home-field advantage. Otherwise, the Steelers' arsenal proved to be expansive Sunday.
"We weren't perfect, but we haven't been perfect all year," coach Mike Tomlin said. "It was enough for the victory."
RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown going wild for 298 combined yards doesn't tell the full story. LB James Harrison looked well-rested and explosive with 1.5 sacks, marking the third straight postseason game with at least one sack for the 38-year-old. Couple Harrison's play with LB Bud Dupree's speedy rush and activity and the Steelers have something working off the edge on defense, which shut down Miami in almost every way.
Every mistake Pittsburgh made in a Week 6 loss to Miami was corrected, from physical tackling to handling the Dolphins' blitzing. QB Ben Roethlisberger completed his first four passes for 121 yards when Miami brought extra defenders. Roethlisberger completed his first 11 passes overall, but the fact that he attempted 17 throws through the first 54 minutes showcased just how dominant Bell was with a franchise postseason-record 167 rushing yards.
"They got after us the first time we played them. We wanted to go out there and make a statement," Bell said.
The Dolphins turned the ball over on three straight drives, which is something the Chiefs won't do Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are too disciplined for that, and they are much better than when they were blown out by Pittsburgh in Week 4.
But beating the Chiefs appears far less daunting than going to Gillette Stadium to play the Patriots, who are in line to host the AFC title game. Yet you could argue that no team is more of a threat to New England than Pittsburgh.
In the past, the Steelers have struggled to win meaningful games in New England.
In the past, the Steelers didn't have Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown in the same playoff lineup.
Roethlisberger has been erratic with interceptions of late, including two more against Miami, but he's the classic cold-weather quarterback, winning 22 of his past 29 games in temperatures below 32 degrees.
Kansas City will likely be just that kind of atmosphere, and not many quarterbacks in the NFL have Roethlisberger's get-hot factor. Roethlisberger was in a walking boot after the game but he said he'll play against the Chiefs.
"We had the big three rolling on offense," Tomlin said.
Big Ben might not need his best if Bell carries the Steelers all the way to February. Bell has been nothing short of brilliant this season, with an average of 158.3 total yards per game in the regular season and postseason. Bell stutter-stepped his way to big gains against Miami's defensive front with patient, quick-cutting runs.
The Steelers haven't lost a game since they decided to sell out with extra tackles and tight ends and dared teams to beat their running game. The plan has worked in eight straight games.
Not many people would be surprised if that number continues to rise.

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