A mystery at the bottom of the pile

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Dolphins linebacker Ikaika Alma-Francis emerged from the mass of humanity in the end zone with the football.

But when did he get it? And how did he get it? And had there been other hands claiming ownership of what was eventually ruled a fumble by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with 2:30 remaining on Sunday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium?

These were topics of great debate in the visitor's locker room following the Steelers' 23-22 victory that allowed them to escape from South Florida with a 5-1 record. The source of the debate were the events that unfolded on a third-and-goal from the Dolphins 2-yard line in a game that had 2:37 remaining and the Steelers in a 22-20 hole. On a quarterback draw, Ben Roethlisberger was ruled to have scored a touchdown only to have the play reversed on a challenge by Miami coach Tony Sparano.

"It was a fumble," wide receiver Hines Ward confirmed. "But then the explanation is nobody got a clear determination of who recovered it. (The Dolphins) just started celebrating because (Roethlisberger) fumbled. There was no clear justification who recovered the ball.

"I know the Miami fans feel like they got slighted, but that's the rule. Plus, two of our guys said they had it."

That was more or less the explanation offered up by referee Gene Steratore – no clear indication of recovery – for returning possession to the Steelers at the 1-yard line.

Jeff Reed's 18-yard field goal on the subsequent fourth-and-1 snap from the Miami 1-yard line provided the slimmest of margins of victory for the Steelers.

Offensive tackle Jonathan Scott said the field goal by Reed shouldn't have been necessary.

"Yeah, me and (guard) Doug (Legursky) had it," Scott said. "We definitely had it. My arm went numb getting it. It was a situation where Doug had two hands on it and I had one. The ref said, 'Let go, it's a touchdown, let go, it's a touchdown.' So we let the ball go.

"It's conflicting from what the ref said when he was explaining the whole situation because if we had the football it would have been a touchdown. Now, the situation of who gets the touchdown, either me or Doug, you don't really know."

Head Linesman Jerry Bergman signaled touchdown as Roethlisberger was crossing the goal line, a call that was overturned by Steratore's replay review. The official play-by-play sheet explained, as Steratore had on the field, that the "2nd part of review was not able to determine who recovered the ball."

"Under that pile I was holding onto it with one of their guys and whoever else was under there," Roethlisberger said. "But I actually had a whole arm around it until the ref was patting me on the back saying 'touchdown,' so I let go. I heard 'touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown,' so I let go. I didn't want my arm to get broken.

"I had a piece of it under there. And so, I believe, did Doug Legursky. We were holding onto it, as was their player. I'm not denying that he (was) holding onto it. But we let go so that's just a matter of how do you tell who recovered the ball? I don't know how you do it."

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey wasn't certain what had happened or especially interested in getting confirmation of it, one way or another.

"I'm pretty sure we had the ball, Doug and J. Scott," Pouncey said. "But I don't care. We won."

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