Monday's NFL: Steelers overcome slow start, drop winless Dolphins

Associated Press
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) dives for the end zone for a touchdown with Miami Dolphins cornerback Jomal Wiltz (33) defending during the second half.

Pittsburgh — Mason Rudolph heard the boos. They were impossible to miss as the minutes passed, the mistakes piled up and the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves down two scores on Monday night to arguably the worst team in the NFL.

Turnovers. Dropped passes. Penalties. Missed opportunities. For the better part of 30 minutes, it was hard to tell if the Steelers or the Miami Dolphins were the team in the midst of a massive rebuild.

“I would have booed that performance too,” Rudolph said. “Coming out slow and it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s a standard here and we weren’t meeting it at the time.”

Eventually, however, Rudolph found his footing. Eventually, the Dolphins morphed back into the team playing for a shot at the top pick in the draft. And eventually the Steelers avoided an embarrassing loss that would have effectively ended the competitive portion of their season by rallying for a 27-14 victory.

Rudolph threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns in his first start after getting knocked unconscious earlier this month against Baltimore, and James Conner added 145 yards and a touchdown on the ground as Pittsburgh (3-4) won consecutive games for the first time since ripping off six straight in the middle of last season.

“You dig a big of a whole there in the first half and I was proud of the way we responded,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph stressed he wasn’t worried about the long-term effects of a frightening concussion he suffered against Baltimore on Oct. 6, when he was knocked cold on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ravens safety Earl Thomas. Still, he looked shaky at best during an ugly opening quarter that saw the Dolphins grab their first two-touchdown lead over any opponent in more than a year.

Pittsburgh’s first possession ended with Rudolph throwing a pick to Xavien Howard – back in the lineup after missing two games with a knee injury – and its second ended with Rudolph misfiring badly on fourth down. Yet he remained upbeat amid the growing pains and eventually things started to click. Rudolph completed 20 of 36 passes, including a 45-yard touchdown to rookie Diontae Johnson late in the second quarter and a 26-yard strike to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the third quarter that put the Steelers firmly in control.

“We needed to get him going early on because all it takes is that one big play for him,” Pittsburgh wide receiver James Washington said. “His mind is going. He’s got that adrenaline going and (once) we started moving the ball down the field running and passing, we were on.”

And the Dolphins (0-7) were not.

Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 190 yards with two touchdowns and two picks, both to Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who orchestrated a trade from Miami to Pittsburgh last month. But a rare hot start couldn’t prevent Miami from staying winless through seven games for the first time since 2011. The Dolphins have dropped 10 straight dating to last season.

“We just have to continue to keep fighting,” Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “That’s just kind of the place that we’re at right now. Just continue to keep fighting, continue to keep going to practice and trying to get better every single day.”

Cardinals deal pick for Drake

Suddenly short on running backs, the Cardinals have traded for help.

Arizona acquired Kenyan Drake from the Miami Dolphins for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2020 on Monday, giving the Cardinals (3-4-1) a healthy backfield option heading into Thursday’s game against the undefeated 49ers (7-0).

It remains to be seen how quickly Drake can adjust to the new offense with just a few practice days. The Cardinals are optimistic.

“From what I’ve heard, he’s a smart player and he’s eager to learn,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We’ll give him enough to where he can execute at a high level. We’re excited — he’s an explosive back, can do it all out of the backfield and I know he’s fired up to get this opportunity.”

The 25-year-old Drake is in his fourth season and gives the Cardinals an experienced player at the banged-up running back position.

Starter David Johnson has missed most of the past two weeks because of an ankle injury and backup Chase Edmonds injured his hamstring in the team’s 31-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Kearse speaks after arrest

Vikings safety Jayron Kearse apologized Monday, saying he “just made a bad decision” that led to an arrest early Sunday morning.

Kearse was pulled over while drunk and with a loaded gun in his vehicle, according to the State Patrol. He posted $6,000 bond and was released from jail on Sunday afternoon. He met with media members Monday at the Vikings’ practice facility.

“It’s not a reflection of who I am as a person or what this organization stands for,” Kearse said Monday.

“The team and these fans deserve better. I definitely take this matter very seriously and I’m sorry for putting anybody in harm’s way. I’m going to take the necessary steps to improve myself.”

Kearse, 25, said he had not yet spoken with coach Mike Zimmer. Kearse, 25, is in a contract year as a special teams captain, and has 16 tackles and two pass deflections in eight games.

Extra points

Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco has a herniated disk in his neck that puts his season and possibly his career in jeopardy and leaves Denver’s dysfunctional offense in the hands of a trio of quarterbacks who have never taken a regular-season snap in the NFL.

... Jets star linebacker C.J. Mosley will miss five to six more weeks as he deals with a groin injury that has kept him out for most of the season.

The Browns agreed to trade linebacker Genard Avery to the Philadelphia Eagles for an undisclosed 2021 draft pick, and the Jets reportedly dealt defensive lineman Leonard Williams to the Giants for a third-round draft pick next year and a fifth-rounder in 2021.