PITTSBURGH — Stripped of the ball by Miami Dolphins defensive end Taco Charlton, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph lay on the ground after being leveled for a second-quarter sack Monday night.
The boos rained down as a frustrated Heinz Field crowd watched the Steelers floundering against the winless Dolphins, who also own Pittsburgh’s 2020 first-round pick by virtue of a trade earlier this season for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
It all turned around in the second half thanks in part to three Miami turnovers. The Steelers won 27-14 and left the Dolphins to search for their first victory of the season elsewhere.
With a pick on his first pass attempt, Rudolph looked shaky in the first half. He held on to the ball too long, and his timing was off. But he turned it around late in the second quarter with a touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson, and kept the momentum going in the second half.
Starting with possession to open the third quarter, Rudolph continued to gain momentum, completing 7 of 10 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Rudolph finished 20-of-36 for 251 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Searching for balance and identity all season, the offense made major strides in the second half as its two stars went over 100 yards for the first time in 2019. Running back James Conner shouldered the load in the backfield with 23 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown. Smith-Schuster had five catches for 103 yards and a score.
Defensively, after allowing the Dolphins to score 14 unanswered points in the first quarter, the Steelers (3-4) held Miami scoreless the rest of the game and forced four turnovers.
Buy this breakout performance: Smith-Schuster finally looked like WR1. Rebounding from an outing against the Los Angeles Chargers during which he had just one catch for 7 yards, Smith-Schuster cracked 100 receiving yards for the first time this season.
Pivotal play: Johnson’s touchdown on third-and-20 to end the first half. The rookie was wide open as the Dolphins called a zero blitz, dropping three into coverage. Johnson not only got the first down after a wide-open catch on a crossing route, he turned it into a 45-yard score. Not to be lost on that play, wide receiver James Washington executed two downfield blocks to keep Johnson’s lane to the end zone clear. The score closed the gap before halftime to four points and gave the Steelers momentum.