Shutdown Corner - NFL

A controversial goal-line ruling helped Ben Roethlisberger(notes) and the Pittsburgh Steelers eke out a win on Sunday over the Miami Dolphins.

With 2:30 remaining in the game, Roethlisberger, playing his second game since returning from suspension, fumbled on the goal line with his team down two points. It appeared that the Dolphins recovered in the end zone. But upon replay review, referee Gene Steratore awarded the ball back to the Steelers because he couldn't conclusively determine that the Dolphins had ended up with the ball, even though a Miami player handed the football to an official.

The Steelers received the ball on the 1-yard line and kicked what would be the game-winning field goal on the next play.


Where to begin?

1. There are two incontrovertible facts about this play: Roethlisberger fumbled the ball. A Miami Dolphins player emerged from the pile and handed the ball to an official. (It's not shown in the video.) 

[Photos: Ben Roethlisberger takes the field

2. In case you missed the wording, here's a full transcript of the explanation from referee Gene Steratore:

"After review it has been determined that prior to the ball crossing the goal line, the runner did lose possession of the ball. However, by rule in replay, two aspects of this play must be available to be viewed. Not only did we have to view the fumble being a fumble, we also have to have clear evidence of the team recovering the ball. After review, we do not have clear evidence of the defense recovering the fumble, therefore Pittsburgh will have the ball, fourth and goal at the half-yard line. Miami will not be charged with a timeout and the clock will start on the ready for play."

That's 109 words to explain a fumble in the end zone. The entire Gettysburg Address was only 272 words.

[List: The worst calls in sports]

3. Those last few sentences were a fancy way of saying "I have no clue who ended up with the ball." Ben Roethlisberger said after the game that he had the ball but an official told him to give it up. Dolphins coaches insist their players had the ball. (Roethlisberger also thought he crossed the goal line, so consider the source. And it looked like he was in one of the worst positions to grab the fumble.)

4. Steratore interpreted the replay review correctly.* That's the only thing he and his crew didn't screw up on this play.

* Since the ref couldn't tell who recovered, the ball goes back to the team that fumbled the ball.

5. The worst mistake was the line judge signaling a touchdown. It was a fumble, he missed it. Stuff like that happens. But because a touchdown was signaled, the other refs failed to monitor the ensuing scrum from the fumble. True, the play is "dead" once the signal goes up, but in recent years the refs have been instructed to keep a play alive even after a dead ball in case there's a questionable call on the field. Even though the play was ruled a touchdown, the fact that the ball was on the ground means the officials should regard the play as live. Steratore didn't. That was mistake No. 2.

As the teams were fighting for possession, the ref walked to the 5-yard line and began explaining that the play was ruled a touchdown. Why the rush? What was his hurry? Sort it all out and then rule a touchdown.

[Rewind: Referee behind Super Bowl loss now admits errors

6. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said the ruling was a "screw up" in his postgame press conference.

7. Steratore took the easy way out. Instead of using common sense to make a ruling that would be deemed controversial, he fell back on the safety of the rule book to get out of having to make a difficult call. A Dolphins player ended up with the ball. It's not a big leap of faith to say that he was the one who recovered. Unfortunately, common sense isn't something in which the NFL rule book often deals.

8. Pittsburgh still had three timeouts, so even if the Dolphins got the ball on their own 20, there was plenty of time for the Steelers to come back and win the game. Also, Miami had plenty of time to score after the Pittsburgh field goal. They went four-and-out on that drive. Steratore didn't help matters, but Miami's loss was a joint effort.

9. It won't please Dolphins fans to know that Steratore is a Pittsburgh native. 

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