PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A day later, the way the Pittsburgh Steelers manhandled the Miami Dolphins for long stretches during their lopsided wild-card win on Sunday felt just as good as it did the first time around.
“It was a pretty thing to watch,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said.
Except for that one snap late in the fourth quarter with the Steelers up three scores and things well in hand, the one that left quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot postgame after tweaking his right ankle when Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake fell on Roethlisberger’s legs during a third-down heave that led to an interception.
Roethlisberger was face down on the Heinz Field turf for a moment before walking off and later jogging to the locker room at the end of the 30-12 beat down.
While he brushed it off afterward and there appears to be no concerns over his availability for next weekend’s visit to Kansas City, that didn’t make it easier for Gilbert to deal with, particularly when he was the one who let Wake get loose.
“When you saw that, honestly kind of felt sick to your stomach,” Gilbert said Monday.
“But you know he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve been around. You know he’s going to play through anything, get back up and do what he has to do to get to next week and play his kind of ball.”
Even if the prospect of having Roethlisberger still under center and throwing with Pittsburgh firmly in control late seemed an unnecessary risk to some, particularly on social media even after Pittsburgh reeled off its eighth straight win.
“I think hindsight is always 20/20,” guard David DeCastro said. “We’ve made plays like that before in that situation.”
DeCastro isn’t kidding.
Head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley have built Pittsburgh’s offense into one of the league’s most dynamic by consistently and relentlessly staying aggressive regardless of the situation.
Roethlisberger remained in the game and threw passes with under eight minutes to play in seven games this season in which the Steelers were at least two touchdowns ahead.
“We had our foot on the pedal,” Gilbert said. “You take it off, tends to turn the opposite way. We kept our foot on the pedal.”
And now that foot is a bit achy, one of the few blemishes on an otherwise spectacular performance.
Pittsburgh’s biggest headaches going forward are the state of Roethlisberger’s foot and the absence of outside linebackers coach Joey Porter.
The former Pro Bowler was placed on leave by the team Monday following his arrest at a Pittsburgh bar on Sunday night on charges of aggravated assault on an officer, simple assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, defiant trespass and public drunkenness.
General manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement Monday the team is continuing to gather information and remains in communication with the NFL as part of the league’s personal conduct policy.
Preparations for a rematch with the Chiefs will go on without the fiery Porter. Pittsburgh had no trouble with Kansas City on Oct. 2, overwhelming the Chiefs early in a nationally televised 43-14 whipping that was never in doubt.
Roethlisberger, by the way, remained in that game with it well out of hand too, throwing four times on a drive that ended with DeAngelo Williams’ touchdown run that put the Steelers up 36 points midway through the fourth quarter.
A meandering season followed, as the Steelers dropped four straight before getting it together in mid-November.
Now they have the NFL’s longest active winning streak and look very much like the team that moved up and down the field at will against the Chiefs three months ago, a night when Roethlisberger threw for at least five touchdowns for the fifth time in his career.
Of course, that was at home. Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t been quite so potent on the road, though those issues eased during the second half of the season.
The Steelers averaged 25.7 points on the road in their past four road games, compared to 17.5 over their first four.
“I think we’re a little more mature team,” DeCastro said. “We have to be, especially this time of the season.”