Blame it on the rain


For 591/2 scoreless minutes, the Dolphins and Steelers slipped and slid on swampland masquerading as an NFL playing field, stuck so deep in the messy muck that neither team managed much yardage, much less any scoring.

No NFL game had stayed a two-way shutout this long since 1943, and no doubt the league doesn't want to see one like this again for another 64 years. The mud and the mire made for one of the sloppiest games in recent league history, one in which the Dolphins came perilously close to ending their season-long losing streak.

And the Steelers, upset losers a week ago to a New York Jets team that had won only once previously, came dangerously close to losing to a no-win team. At least they did until Jeff Reed stood up long enough on the skittish turf to kick a 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining, giving Pittsburgh a 3-0 victory.

"Unbelievable," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "That's the only word I can use. Just unbelievable."

The Steelers (8-3) could only sigh with relief after winning a game in which heavy rain turned Heinz Field's 24-hour-old sod into a points-depriving quagmire, with shanked punts, slippery footing, misdirected pass routes and numerous misplays all around.

"It was not easy out there. There were times when we were trying to fix divots at the line of scrimmage," said Roethlisberger, who was 18-for-21 for 165 yards despite the treacherous footing.

Imagine how the Dolphins (0-11) feel after coming so close to stopping their 0-for-2007 streak. The field conditions proved a great equalizer but, down to their No. 4 running back and relying on a rookie quarterback making only his second start, the Dolphins couldn't manage a single scoring play.

"We got close, but not close enough," said quarterback John Beck, who hasn't led a single touchdown drive in his first two NFL starts.

That's the story of this Dolphins season: close, but not close enough. While Miami keeps heading toward the infamy of a winless record &

no NFL team has gone 0-16, and only Tampa Bay in 1976 went 0-14 &

the New England Patriots (11-0) are striving to duplicate Miami's perfect season in 1972.

There was nothing perfect about the lowest-scoring Monday night since the primetime games began in 1970; the previous low was nine points, in Jacksonville's 9-0 win over the Steelers last season.

It was the league's lowest-scoring game since Dec. 11, 1993, when the New York Jets beat Washington 3-0. The Detroit Lions and New York Giants played the NFL's last scoreless tie on Nov. 11, 1943, and no game since until this one remained scoreless for so long.

"Those conditions, whew, they were horrendous," said Hines Ward, who made nine catches for 88 yards. "The footing was bad, all of a sudden you'd hit a water puddle and sink down. Some of defensive backs were scared about falling down and giving up a big play."

Ward, Roethlisberger and running back Willie Parker accounted for nearly all of Pittsburgh's offense, with Parker going over the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive season by gaining 81 yards. He has 1,006 yards for the season.

NFL games have been played in downpours and blizzards, and the aftermath of a hurricane &

the Steelers-Dolphins game in Miami in September 2004, won by Pittsburgh 13-3 &

but this was a first: lightning and heavy rain in a late November game in Pittsburgh, resulting in a 25-minute delay.

The Steelers couldn't have picked a worse time to lay down new turf. After five high school and college games were played at Heinz Field last weekend, crews hurriedly put down a new layer of sod atop the chewed-up grass in time for Monday night's game.

Because the rain fell so heavily most of the day, the water seeped between the seams of the protective tarps, resulting in huge puddles, soft spots and sinkholes.

"It was like being on the beach in the sand on every play," said Miami linebacker Joey Porter, the former Steelers star who played against his old team for the first time.

This is how bad the field was. During an earlier 44-yard field-goal try, the sod shifted, causing Reed to miss badly. And when a 38-yard attempt by Miami's Jay Feely was blocked, only to be wiped out by a penalty, the Dolphins went for it on fourth down rather than try another kick.

"From the 25 to the 35 (yard lines), you just could not kick," Feely said. "They were the worst conditions that I ever kicked in while in the NFL."

Late in the third quarter, Brandon Fields' punt from near the Miami goal line came straight down and plugged in the soggy turf like an arrow, burying itself several inches deep.

Newly reinstated Dolphins running back Ricky Williams tried to help, carrying six times for 15 yards in his first NFL game since Jan. 1, 2006, only to injure a shoulder. Williams sat out the 2006 NFL season and the first 10 games of this season for a repeat violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.

"My No. — concern coming into the game was that you hurry a guy back, obviously you can get hurt," coach Cam Cameron said.

The Dolphins, already without top running back Ronnie Brown (knee), also lost top backup Jesse Chatman (neck). the end of the game, Patrick Cobbs, with only 11 previous carries, was getting the ball.

Despite the bizarre conditions and the injuries, the Dolphins had an exceptional opportunity to finally end their streak, only to lose for the 14th straight time since last season.

"That was pretty much the worst," Porter said. Notes:

The Dolphins' 0-11 start is the NFL's worst since the Lions were 0-12 in 2001. ... The Steelers are 6-0 with two shutouts at home. They retained their one-game lead in the AFC North over Cleveland (7-4). ... The Steelers outgained the Dolphins 216-159. ... The only scoreless tie in Steelers history came against Cincinnati in 1933, Pittsburgh's first season. ... Pittsburgh has won 13 consecutive Monday night home games, last losing in 1991.

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