BY STEVEN WINE
The Associated Press
MIAMI - With the game on the line, Mike Tomczak connected on one more pass than Dan Marino.
Tomczak threw for 252 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown to Ernie Mills with 2:10 remaining, and the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied from an 11-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Miami Dolphins 24-17 Monday night.
Marino moved Miami 73 yards in the final two minutes to the 7-yard line, but his pass to Scott Miller on fourth-and-1 with 25 seconds left fell incomplete in the end zone.
Steelers wide receiver Andre Hastings is chased by the Dolphins' Calvin Jackson Monday night (AP).
''It's very exhilarating,'' Tomczak said. ''When we scored, I told (teammate) Will Wolford, 'Marino's got too much time.' He said, 'Who cares?'''
The Dolphins (6-6) fell a game behind San Diego in their bid for a wild-card berth.
''It shouldn't have come down to us scoring with two minutes left,'' Marino said.
The Steelers (9-3) increased their lead to three games over second-place Houston in the AFC Central.
''That's a big win for our team, facing a team that's looking at this as their playoff game, in a hostile environment,'' Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said.
With the outcome, AFC West leader Denver (11-1) became the first team to clinch a postseason berth.
The Steelers' Jerome Bettis rushed for 119 yards. Miami scored only one touchdown against the Pittsburgh defense, which has allowed the fewest yards and points in the AFC.
Miami was hurt by nine penalties for 54 yards, while Pittsburgh was penalized just once. Guards Everett McIver and rookie Jeff Buckey, making their first starts for the Dolphins, were each penalized once for 10 yards in the second half.
''Penalties and miscues took us out of our rhythm,'' Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said. ''It was a frustrating loss. We felt like we could win, and we had plenty of opportunities.''
Marino's 38-yard pass to Troy Drayton set up a 41-yard field goal by Joe Nedney to tie the game 17-17 late in the third quarter. But Nedney missed a 48-yarder with 8ï minutes left.
Pittsburgh's second sack of Marino backed up the Dolphins, and a punt gave the Steelers the ball at the Miami 45 with six minutes to go.
Tomczak's touchdown pass came eight plays later on third-and-8. Mills broke free in the end zone when cornerback Terrell Buckley collided with a teammate.
Mills said the ball seemed to be in the air a long time.
''I just said, 'Come on, come on,' and it finally got there,'' he said.
Tomczak, who also threw completions of 34, 36 and 38 yards, was 16-for-29 and overcame two early turnovers. He lost a fumble, ending a scoring threat, then threw an interception that Calvin Jackson returned 61 yards for a touchdown.
Marino completed 22 of 37 passes for 254 yards. He had two passes dropped, spoiling apparent first downs.
''It's a very difficult loss because I felt we should have won,'' Marino said. ''We were here at home on Monday night, and for us to have a chance to get into the playoffs, we have to win while we're at home.''
The Dolphins took the opening kickoff and drove 76 yards in 15 plays for a 7-0 lead. Marino completed all six of his attempts, including a 2-yarder to O.J. McDuffie on third down for the score.
Midway through the second quarter, Tomczak tried to find Andre Hastings on short sideline route, but Jackson stepped between them to make the interception. He juggled the ball, then took off and scored untouched for a 14-3 Miami lead.
The Steelers' comeback began on their next possession with an 80-yard drive. Tomczak hit Mark Bruener for 37 yards, and at the 5-yard line reserve quarterback Kordell Stewart fooled the defense with an option and pitched to Tim Lester, who scored untouched.
Tomczak threw long again early in the third quarter, hitting Andre Hastings for 38 yards on third-and-8. That set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Stewart to give the Steelers their first lead, 17-14.
Pittsburgh 3 7 7 7 - 24
Mia-McDuffie 2 pass from Marino (Nedney kick), 9:45.
Miami 7 7 3 0 - 17
Pit-FG N.Johnson 47, 13:45.
Mia-Jackson 61 interception return (Nedney kick), 7:12.
Pit-Lester 5 run (N.Johnson kick), 11:30.
Pit-Stewart 1 run (N.Johnson kick), 7:00.
Mia-FG Nedney 41, 12:26. Drive: 6 plays, 47 yards, 3:14.
Pit-Mills 20 pass from Tomczak (N.Johnson kick), 12:50.
RUSHING-Pittsburgh, Bettis 27-119, Mills 1-9, Stewart 4-5, Pegram 2-5, Lester 1-5, Tomczak 1-(minus 1). Miami, Abdul-Jabbar 16-57, Parmalee 1-10, Pritchett 2-8, Spikes 1-0.
PASSING-Pittsburgh, Tomczak 16-29-1-252. Miami, Marino 22-37-0-254.
RECEIVING-Pittsburgh, C.Johnson 5-60, Hastings 4-57, Bettis 2-28, Bruener 1-36, Thigpen 1-34, Mills 1-20, Wittman 1-11, Lester 1-6. Miami, Barnett 8-98, McDuffie 5-33, Drayton 3-47, Hill 2-51, Parmalee 2-17, Miller 1-8, Pritchett 1-0.
MISSED FIELD GOALS-Pittsburgh, N.Johnson 47 (S). Miami, Nedney 56 (WR), 48 (WR).
Published Nov. 10, 1996.