Ben Roethlisberger(notes) was sprawled out on the ground. Terrell Suggs(notes) was celebrating in the end zone. Pittsburgh's Ramon Foster(notes) was staring at it, while Baltimore's Jarret Johnson(notes) was gleefully skipping past it. And all the while, the football, which had just come out of the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, was still alive.
No whistle had blown and nobody on the field in the AFC divisional playoff game realized it. The ball was free for the taking and nobody went to pick it up. Except for Cory Redding(notes) of the Baltimore Ravens:
There was a solid three seconds where nobody on the field made a move towards the ball because they thought there had been a whistle. The players presumed the play was dead, perhaps because years of tuck rule decisions have led them to believe that any time the quarterback gets the ball jarred loose is an incomplete pass.
But the old saying "play until the whistle" exists for a reason. Other than Redding, nobody heeded the familiar refrain that they've heard since they laced up the cleats in pee-wee leagues. For two heady teams like the Ravens and Steelers, it's remarkable that most players on the field assumed rather than reacted.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin challenged the play, hoping that Roethlisberger's arm was going forward (or that he was tucking it away). The replay, however, was clear. It was an especially devastating loss because Tomlin had already challenged a play earlier in the game. The loss left him with no ability to dispute any call on the field for the rest of the game.