(AP) — The last time Ben Roethlisberger walked off an opponent’s field after a regular-season game was Jan. 3 in Miami, where his strong performance got the Pittsburgh Steelers a win – though they’d find out hours later it wasn’t enough to get them into the playoffs.
The Steelers don’t look like they plan on needing help to qualify for the postseason this time.
Roethlisberger’s first road game since returning from his suspension is Sunday at Sun Life Stadium, where AFC North-leading Pittsburgh begins a stretch of three straight games away from home while looking for a fifth consecutive victory over the Dolphins.
Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes in a 30-24 win over Miami in the 2009 season finale, but Pittsburgh’s three-game winning streak wasn’t enough to help it overcome five straight losses leading up to that run.
As it turned out, that was Roethlisberger’s last meaningful game until last Sunday against Cleveland. Pittsburgh won three of four during its quarterback’s ban, then watched Roethlisberger follow an early interception with three TDs in a 28-10 victory.
“One thing about him – when you look into his eyes, you always know you have a chance to win ballgames,” receiver Hines Ward said. “And everybody just follows.”
The Steelers (4-1) stayed afloat during Roethlisberger’s absence with a strong defense, which looks rejuvenated after its repeated fourth-quarter collapses in 2009. Pittsburgh leads the NFL in scoring defense (12.0 points per game), rush defense (63.8 yards per game) and has forced 15 turnovers – just seven fewer than all of last season.
After an incident in last weekend’s win, though, one of the Steelers’ best defenders was left to wonder how he’s supposed to rein in his aggressive style. Linebacker James Harrison, the league’s 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, was fined $75,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland’s Mohamed Massaquoi.
“I don’t want to injure anybody,” Harrison said. “There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people.”
Harrison was so discouraged by the fine that he threatened to retire and was excused from practice Wednesday after a conversation with coach Mike Tomlin. He returned to the Steelers on Thursday.
Chad Henne and the Dolphins (3-2) would certainly prefer if Harrison spent some more time away from the field as they try to snap a four-game home losing streak dating to December.
Miami is 3-0 on the road, though, after taking advantage of a banged-up Green Bay defense last Sunday. The Dolphins used a balanced run-pass attack – 39 of each – and another big effort from Brandon Marshall to top the Packers 23-20 in overtime.
“It’s hard to win games in the NFL and it’s much harder to win on the road,” Marshall said after catching 10 passes for 127 yards. “It feels good, but we’ve got to go back home and win in front of our fans.”
That would be easier if Miami can start forcing more turnovers. Four of the five the Dolphins have created this season came in a Week 2 win at Minnesota, and they didn’t come away with any in losses to the New York Jets and New England.
Perhaps the man who forced the team’s lone fumble recovery can continue making a difference. Linebacker Cameron Wake already has six sacks – three against the Packers – to top the 5 1/2 he had last season, his first after spending two seasons in the Canadian Football League.
The quarterback who sees Harrison and LaMarr Woodley coming at him each day in practice is certainly impressed.
“I think everybody in the NFL knows who (Wake) is,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s causing a huge stir and doing some great things. He’s a very physical rusher. It doesn’t seem to matter whether he’s being blocked – he seems to find a way to throw guys off him or run through them. He’s making plays left and right like it’s nothing.”
Pittsburgh’s defense will be without run-stuffing end Brett Keisel (hamstring), which could open a few more holes for Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. Williams needs 89 yards from scrimmage to pass Larry Csonka (7,425) for the most by a Dolphins running back.
Williams had 12 carries for 31 yards against the Steelers in last season’s loss.
Pittsburgh has won all four meetings with Miami since 1998.