Steelers Steal One? Maybe

The controversial ruling following Ben Roethlisberger's fumble late in Sunday's game will be talked about for a while, and it appears pretty clear the Dolphins got hosed when Pittsburgh was given the ball back at the half-yard line so the Steelers could kick a game-winning field goal. But was that really the game-deciding play?

We'll get back to the ruling and offer our thoughts later, but here's one very important point that needs to be made: Even had the Dolphins been given the ball on a touchback after the replay review, the game would not have been over.

There would have been 2:30 left in the game, the Dolphins would have gotten the ball at the 20-yard line and the Steelers would have had all three of their timeouts.

That means the Dolphins would have needed to get a first down to close out the game, otherwise the Steelers would have gotten another shot on offense.

Judging by the putrid last offensive drive of the Dolphins, which we'll also address a little later, can you really say it would have been a slam dunk Miami would have gotten a first down? Huh, no.

OK, let's play hypothetical here: The Dolphins get the ball back and run three plays that gain, say, 8 yards for the sake of argument.

The Steelers likely would have called a timeout after the first two downs and let the clock run down to the two-minute warning after third down.

That means that under this scenario the Dolphins punt the ball from their own 28 on the first play of the two-minute warning.

Using Brandon Fields' season average of 35.6 net yards per punt (we'll round it out to 36 yards for this purpose), that gives the Steelers the ball at their 36-yard line with, let's say, 1:51 left and one timeout.

Given that the wind was at their back at the time, they probably would have needed to get to the Miami 35-yard line to give Jeff Reed a shot at a wind-aided 53-yard field goal?

Really think the Dolphins would have prevented Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for over 300 yards, from moving the Steelers the needed 29 yards? Sorry, don't see it.

So maybe the real story of the ending isn't so much the strange ruling but rather the offensive — use the word in all meanings — series the Dolphins put together afterward.

There were so many things not to like about that series I don't know where to start. OK, we'll just go chronologically.

First-and-10 from the 29: Ronnie Brown carries up the middle for 2 yards. First question: Brown had gained 12 yards on eight previous carries, so why would anyone expect that to produce a good gain? The Steelers came into the game first in the league in run defense, giving up an average of 2.7 yards per carry. Yes, it's easy to second-guess play-calling after the fact, but that was one call that was questioned the second Henne gave Brown the ball.

Second-and-8 from the 31: The Dolphins hurry to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball before the two-minute warning and the result is an incompletion up the middle. After watching the replay, it appears Fasano dropped the ball before he was hit by the defender, so that one is on him. But the question remains: What was the hurry? The Dolphins needed only a field goal to win. Two minutes, even without a timeout, was plenty enough time to drive downfield to get that done.

Third-and-8 from the 31: Henne throws to fullback Lousaka Polite for a 2-yard gain. Henne appeared to looked down the middle before checking down to Polite. Here's the issue here: Polite is a very good fullback, he's almost automatic on third-and-short, but why is he in the game in a two-minute drill when he's a short-yardage specialist? He caught the ball in space and was taken down one-on-one by cornerback William Gay. In an earlier situation like that, Ronnie Brown beat his tackler one-on-one and gained additional yardage. Why is Polite getting the ball on third-and-8? Made no sense.

Fourth-and-6 from the 33: Henne senses pressure in the pocket, scrambles to his right and is hit from behind by rookie Jason Worilds as he attempts to throw and the ball falls incomplete. It appeared on replay as though Henne was throwing short to Brown, who was surrounded by Pittsburgh and would have been tackled well short of the first down.

So complain about the controversial call all you want, but the Dolphins still had a great opportunity to pull out a victory against the Steelers and their offense failed — miserably.

Championship-caliber teams pull out games like that, or at the very least move the ball a little. To go four-and-out was more disappointing from this end than the ruling.

Here's why: Once the officials gave up on Roethlisberger's fumble after one linesman ruled the play a touchdown, referee Gene Steratore may not have had much of a choice but to rule the way he did.

But here's where the officials messed up: The linesman who raised his arms to signal a touchdown had no business doing so because all he could see was Roethlisberger's back and therefore in no way could have seen the ball cross the plane of the goal line.

It seems he just assumed Roethlisberger had scored.

Mistake number two by the officials, of course, was the fact that nobody bothered to check in on the loose ball once the touchdown had been signaled.

A couple of Pittsburgh players claimed they had the ball in the end zone. One of those was Roethlisberger, who said he had control until an official told him he had scored. To use the famous Jimmy Johnson saying, Puh-leeze.

It was Ikaika Alama-Francis who emerged from the pile with the ball, even handing it to an official.

None of that mattered, though, because the officials already had goofed. It was very similar to what happened in a Denver-San Diego game a few years back when Ed Hochuli blew his whistle prematurely on a Jay Cutler fumble that San Diego recovered.

Brandon Marshall was on the positive end of that one; he was on the wrong side of the one yesterday.

But the call, no matter who infuriating, didn't have to mean a loss for the Dolphins.

They can blame the officials all they want for Pittsburgh getting their last three points; they have only themselves to blame for not even coming close to getting the final three points that would have gotten them a victory anyway.


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