PITTSBURGH — He had come hard for Miami quarterback Matt Moore, so he suspected the Dolphins might want to beef and scrap with him.
"But then again, I guess those boys had to realize, they don’t want no problems," Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree, a second-year player from Kentucky, insisted. Dupree is a brute 6’4, 248 pounds, who had used all of it midway through the second quarter on a brutal shot on Moore as he released a pass.
"I didn’t see it," Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "But I heard it."
Moore left the game for a play.
"I was checking to see if I still had all of my teeth," he said. "I just got popped. I just got smoked."
Dupree was slapped with a roughing the passer penalty.
"Somebody pushed me," Dupree said. That was Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi with a shove that was more like a nudge.
Pittsburgh was already pounding Miami, 20-3.
"Where I’m from, near Macon, Ga., anything past the city of Atlanta is considered country," Dupree said. "I grew up used to having people having something to say about me. You do what you have to do to make people respect you. I thought it was a clean hit. I was just trying to make the play. But if you want to make it about more than that? Get in my face? I’m not worried about a fight. I’m with that."
That was tough talk from Dupree in the Steelers locker room Sunday and he was not alone. The Steelers are among the NFL’s most loquacious and confrontational units. But when they chop it up so richly with big talk after having chopped you up so acutely with bigger shots — well, they deserve the last word.
They got it. A 30-12 playoff victory here at Heinz Field that made the Dolphins look small.
The words mindset and attitude kept surfacing after the game.
Also the term "January Football."
A closer look reveals that Pittsburgh fixated on its 15-point loss on Oct. 16 at Miami when Ajayi rushed for 204 yards.
"They got our attention," Steelers cornerback William Gay said. "We were going to shut him down this time. We were going to create an atmosphere for success."
Ajayi gained 33 rushing yards.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin kept talking about "January Football." He indicated it was a time when it was "man vs. himself." He talked about the Steelers continuing to evolve and understand that it is all about advancing each game in these playoffs.
Receiver Antonio Brown said it means playing every game like it is your last.
"January Football is a time where you extend yourself," Gay said. "We put pressure on each other that if you don’t click, you don’t win."
Steelers linebacker James Harrison described it as a time when everyone does a better job of beating the man in front of him.
It’s a time to tee off, the Steelers said.
Cockrell added: "January Football is time for pretenders to sit down. This is the time you find out who has what it takes to be champions."
As the Steelers (12-5) head to Kansas City for divisional playoff action, they look and feel the part.
"We know what we had to do but we didn’t do it," Miami coach Adam Gase said. "They locked us up a lot of times."
Yes, and they crushed them in others.
"My teammates were all hyped around me after that hit, just on fire," Dupree said.
Pittsburgh started the game offensively hyped, with Brown scoring on catches of 50 and 62 yards and running back Le’Veon Bell running 10 consecutive times on Pittsburgh’s third scoring drive. He capped it with a 1-yard scoring run en route to 167 rushing yards, a Steelers playoff record.
As he left the stadium deep inside the Heinz Field tunnels, Bell was pensive.
"Being that it was my first playoff game, I wanted to make it memorable," Bell said. "I wanted to do something that would spread through our team. Ignite our whole team. I think everyone was playing the game that way today, just making sure you took care of your job but also trying to do it in a way that was inspiring. I really like this playoff feeling. It seems to me it requires your A-game, and as long as you bring that, it can be a lot of fun and a great experience."
Bell, Brown, and Ben.
Sounds like a law firm more than Pittsburgh’s dynamic running back, receiver, and quarterback trio. Ben Roethlisberger said the boot on his right foot after this game would not prevent him from playing in Kansas City. He said he suffered the injury late in the game. He has a long history of rising beyond pain and surfacing in the pocket.
He said it was a mindset. An attitude.
Tomlin calls this trio his "Big 3" and "core players." It was the first Steelers playoff game with all three involved. They helped lead Pittsburgh to 219 offensive yards in the first quarter. The fast start dictated the game. The physical play did, too.
Pittsburgh began the game throwing the ball a lot to be able to then run it a lot. They tossed Miami a left, then a right. Once Miami adjusted and emphasized its pass defense, Pittsburgh unleashed Bell and the run game. A right tossed, then a left. Back and forth it went. With wicked Steelers shots everywhere.
Moore completed 29 of 36 passes. He threw for 289 yards. Nice numbers. But he was intercepted one, sacked five times, and lost two fumbles. Dupree got the nastiest shot on him, but it was certainly not the only once.
The Steelers will arrive in Kansas City ready to maul. It is a good thing for the Chiefs that their coach, Andy Reid, spent most of his coaching career in the NFC East, where this type of bruising football was routine. Reid knows exactly what the Steelers are, as much old-school bullies as they come.
Pittsburgh sees it as back to basics.
"We believe in defensive backs tackling and big men running," Dupree said. "We believe in our linebackers being the mean of the team, the one part of it that provides the most fear. I think our offense is all attack and our special teams are built that way. But everything starts with being physical."
And confronting any "problems" that come with it.