If Tomlin was trying to speed the ’ escape from Miami, he couldn’t be blamed. He probably did not want to give officials any more time to reconsider a replay decision that was so baffling that even the Steelers’ chairman, , said he had never seen anything like it in all his years in football. Quarterback fumbled just before he crossed the goal line, officials ruled, but they could not clearly determine who recovered, even though it looked very much as if the Dolphins had.
“We’ll take it and exit stage left,” Tomlin said.
Good thinking. The victory makes the Steelers 5-1 and starts their three-game road trip with a critical A.F.C. victory.
Even after holding the Dolphins to two field goals after two early turnovers, the Steelers were one very weird replay from a loss. They were trailing, 22-20, with less than three minutes to play when Roethlisberger, on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, lined up in the shotgun and kept the ball on a designed run.
He dived for the goal line with the ball in his right hand. The Dolphins’ Chris Clemons dived at Roethlisberger, grazing his elbow and setting the ball loose inches from the goal line. A scrum developed in the end zone, with Roethlisberger, Clemons and a host of others grasping for the ball.
That was where the trouble began.
Officials had already signaled a touchdown. Roethlisberger said later that he had control of the ball under the pile until a member of the officiating crew patted him on the back and told him it was a touchdown. That, Roethlisberger said, is when he let go.
In the meantime, the Dolphins claimed they had recovered. Coach Tony Sparano requested a replay. And although at least one angle showed that Roethlisberger clearly did not have control when he crossed the goal line, the official Gene Steratore said it was not clear that the defense had possession of the ball before the scrum developed, a critical part of the ruling.
“In order to overturn this and give another team the football, I have to have clear video evidence of the team recovering the fumble,” Steratore said, according to a pool report. “We did have a fumble, but we did not have video evidence and a confirmation on who recovered the football. But we could not award the defense in this situation the football because we don’t have video evidence of the defense recovering the ball.”
And why wasn’t it clear?
“It is a pile of bodies in there and you don’t have a clear recovery,” Steratore said.
Tomlin said: “I don’t know what the definition of a scrum is. But I’ll take it.”
The end result: Jeff Reed kicked an 18-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh the lead. Then the defense, which had kept the Steelers alive with the two early holds, took over.
The Dolphins, who had passed their way into the game by keeping extra players in to protect Chad Henne from the Steelers’ blitzes, could not get a first down, and the game was over.
The loss dropped the Dolphins to 3-3, with all of their losses coming at home, where the early-season heat usually favors them.
“I’m not going to get into what I think,” Sparano said. “What I think is that at the end of the day … I mean, it was a big play in the game, but it shouldn’t have come down to that.”
That is little comfort for the Dolphins, who 10 years ago were called out of the locker room in Foxborough, Mass., as they were celebrating winning the A.F.C. East, after officials overturned a blown call on a fumble at the end of the game and put a few seconds back on the clock. Thirty-five minutes later, play resumed for one play, with some people on the sidelines in bathrobes to see Miami complete the victory. No wonder Tomlin was in such a rush.
Roethlisberger is undefeated in two games since returning from his four-game suspension, this time completing 19 of 27 passes for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns. That included one 43-yard completion to on third-and-16 after Roethlisberger was flushed out of the pocket and threw a perfect touch pass while falling backward.
Still, the Steelers, who face the on Sunday, gave up a season high in points, and their defense had a significant loss when end Aaron Smith tore a triceps muscle, ending his season.
But at least the Steelers do not have to worry about the mind-set of linebacker James Harrison, who was at the center of last week’s debate over hits to the head; he was fined $75,000 for a hit and briefly contemplated retirement. Harrison said that he had thought about the controversy during the week but that he was not trying to prove a point with his play.
Harrison did say, however, that he held up on one play when Ronnie Brown was coming across the middle. Harrison said he pulled up because he saw Brown go into a slide. Harrison said if he had gone after Brown as he normally would have, he probably would have hit him high. Instead, Larry Foote made the tackle.
“I didn’t want to jump in there on that play because next time they’ll probably suspend me,” Harrison said. “Other than that, it didn’t change much. I really didn’t have to change too much.”
Nor, it seems, will the Steelers.