By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Outside of gamblers, there weren’t many Americans who were excited for Monday night’s game between the winless Miami Dolphins and the 2-4 Pittsburgh Steelers. Or at least, there weren’t many Americans willing to admit that they were excited for that slopfest.
Yet because sports are sports, it ended up being a fairly compelling football game.
The Dolphins had the football world on red alert when they capitalized on a Mason Rudolph interception to take a 7-0 lead. The sirens started wailing when that lead doubled to 14-0 before the end of the first quarter. The home crowd was stunned, as was everybody else watching on TV.
Ah, but then reality returned. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions, was sacked four times, and fumbled twice, losing one. Running back Mark Walton (who?) lost a fumble as well.
The Steelers scored 27 unanswered points, winning the game 27-14. In doing so, the Steelers kept alive the dream that everybody should be hoping to see.
That dream is, of course, The Perfection Bowl, or perhaps from the Dolphins’ side, it would be the Imperfection Bowl. In any case, that bowl game would take place in Week 17, when the Patriots might be undefeated, and the Dolphins might be winless.
While undefeated seasons are almost as rare as unicorns, and while fully defeated seasons are likewise not often seen, the fact is that at the season’s midway point, a game that can feature the Patriots gunning for 16-0 and the Dolphins shooting for 0-16 remains a distinct possibility for Dec. 29.
Unfortunately, given how Miami looked reasonably competent for about a third of Monday night’s game, it seems like the tank job may hit a stumble or two over the next couple of months.
Miami hosts the Jets next week, and given the state of New York’s second football team, that one is anyone’s guess. The Dolphins travel to Cleveland on in Week 12 and play in New Jersey in consecutive weeks, first against the Jets in Week 14 and then the Giants in Week 15.
All of that is just the setup for a game that will be for all the marbles: Week 16, Cincinnati at Miami.
As things stand right now, the Bengals are 0-8 with a minus-86 point differential. That’s bad.
The Dolphins are 0-7 with a minus-161 point differential. That’s almost twice as bad!
The reality is that, barring a 0-0 tie (which is a distinct possibility), one of those two teams will win at least one game this season. And if Miami comes out winners in Week 16, it sure will take a lot of the juice out of the Week 17 trip to Foxboro. (Week 16 Bengals-Dolphins absolutely needs to be flexed into prime time. The country needs to see this game. If it could somehow preempt “The Biggest Loser,” then even better.)
Of course, the Patriots probably won’t go undefeated. Their defense is dominant, but their offense isn’t quite at 2007 levels. Plus, their kicking game could prove problematic in a close game, especially as the weather worsens every week.
So, in essence, this Perfection Bowl remains a pipe dream — but a very worthwhile one.
Some more quick-hit thoughts from the surprisingly entertaining Monday Night Football matchup between the Steelers and Dolphins:
–Credit to Brian Flores for drawing up a Zero Humans Defense late in the second quarter, thus ensuring that the Dolphins didn’t have to get out of their comfort zone by having a comfortable lead at halftime. Good coaching requires a deep understanding of your players. So that’s just good coaching.
Anyway, third-and-20 from the 45-yard line. Any reasonable defensive formation would allow a short pass, thus forcing the offense into a long field goal try. Not the Dolphins. The Dolphins? They ran this.
It was one of the worst defensive calls in the NFL this year. You’ll never believe this, but receiver Diontae Johnson caught the ball and was able to run fairly easily for 40-plus yards into the end zone.
“I don’t have any regrets on the call,” Flores said. “Wanted to be aggressive. We can second-guess a lot of calls. I’m not going to second-guess that one.”
–Another Pittsburgh touchdown shall be remembered as a cousin of The Helmet Catch. Unlike the original, though, this catch involved an actually talented NFL wide receiver, so it made some more sense than the Super Bowl XLII grab.
Here’s what JuJu Smith-Schuster did:
No words necessary.
–There was a solid 10-minute delay at the end of the third quarter, after Pittsburgh challenged the spot on a Ryan Fitzpatrick rushing attempt on a fourth down near midfield. He was initially given the first down, but was ruled to have been short of the sticks. Fairly simple process, right? Wrong.
For whatever reason, Al Riveron in New York and Ronald Torbert in Pittsburgh needed 10 minutes to sort this all out. Why? WHY?
As Mike Florio wrote, “Halftime in the NFL lasts 13 minutes, and the delay at the end of the third quarter was basically another halftime.”
Flores’ reaction to the mess was spot-on:
— Videos by: FTB (@FTBVids1) October 29, 2019
Brian Flores challenges calls the old fashioned way pic.twitter.com/buWHPjOk3n
— Pick Six Podcast (@picksixpod) October 29, 2019
In some subtly effective storytelling, a graphic came on the screen shortly after Flores’ long outburst to note that his hometown is the Bronx, New York.
–Speaking of the production, the game featured another instance of a pass interference penalty being reviewed. It involved Diontae Johnson grabbing the arm of Xavien Howard before hauling in a touchdown catch.
Despite Johnson clearly jerking the arm of Howard — an act which completely spun Howard’s shoulders and prevented the corner from raising his right arm to break up or intercept the pass — nobody on ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast crew could see a penalty being committed.
That included play-by-play man Joe Tessitore:
“Don’t we typically look for the full extension of the arm, when you can see the elbow flatten out for the call?”
It included color analyst Booger McFarland:
“If you’re calling that OPI, what are you saying that he did right there?”
And, worst of all, it included John Parry, a longtime former NFL official and referee who has worked multiple Super Bowls:
“I don’t know. I just don’t see much there. A little hand fighting there that’s very normal, based on what we’ve seen the first two quarters. Nothing there that I would say is offensive pass interference.”
“We’re going back to hand-checking. There is a hand on that arm. I get it. But man, right now you let these guys play. It’s just not the big push, the big separation that’s created, that I would say falls into the category of OPI.”
It was wild. A receiver can’t grab a corner’s arm and yank it away from his body just a moment before the ball arrives. That’s offensive pass interference.
After a booth review, the call on the field was confirmed, leading to some befuddlement among the play-by-play man, the color analyst … and the former NFL referee. While the issue of pass interference review has caused quite a bit of confusion this year, that one is on the broadcasters, not the league.
–This was cool.
–Whether you had Pittsburgh -14, or Miami +14, the ending of this game must have been a total heart attack moment for you.
Quick whistle in the Steelers game that could have had a major impact on the spread.
Steelers were -14 tonight against the Dolphins. Final score 27-14 Steelers.
— Barstool Bets (@barstoolbets) October 29, 2019
If you’re smart, you just didn’t bet money on the Dolphins and Steelers.