DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins' coach Tony Sparano has sent off film to the league offices of the controversial play that happened at the end of Sunday's 23-22 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in hopes of getting a better explanation of the ruling that led to the Steelers' game-winning field goal.
Even though the outcome of the game will not change, there were enough questions afterwards about what exactly took place on that 3rd-and-goal quarterback keeper by Ben Roethlisberger that Sparano saw fit to take that extra bit of action.
Roethlisberger's right arm was hit by Dolphins' free safety Chris Clemons before he reached the end zone and the ball popped loose, bouncing into the end zone. An immediate scrum took place with what appeared to be mostly Dolphins players at the bottom of the pile, but since the side judge came in and thrust his arms in the air signaling touchdown, the search for who actually recovered the fumble officially stopped before Miami's Ikaika Alama-Francis emerged with the ball and handed it to an official. After the Dolphins challenged the ruling that it was a touchdown, the decision went up to the replay official in the booth high above the field.
There was a lengthy delay as head referee Gene Steratore went under the hood and conversed with the replay official, and when he emerged he announced that it was determined that Roethlisberger did indeed fumble the ball at the half-yard line but that there was no clear video evidence to confirm who recovered the ball so Pittsburgh was awarded possession back at the half-yard line. Jeff Reed then kicked an 18-yard field goal and Miami went three-and-out on its next drive.
"I've sent the play to the league and you usually don't get a response back on that for a couple of days I'm assuming because tonight (Monday night football) ends the week. So they'll get back to you when they get back to you," Sparano said. "I just want to hear an explanation again, that's all. I don't think it's going to change. I mean I think the explanation that I got yesterday is the one that I'll probably get."
What is bothering Sparano and the rest of the team is how it could not be determined who came up with the ball when Alama-Francis emerged from the pile with it.
"The explanation that I received was that the fumble occurred on the half-yard line or thereabouts and the ball cannot be advanced," Sparano said. "But as far as the coverage of any of that, even though our player came up with the ball and handed the ball to the official, the way I'm understanding it, they did not visually see our player recover the football. So because they didn't physically see our player recover the football they call it a scrum. Now I don't know how there can't be a scrum down there when you're dealing with the 1-yard line. ... I think there's going to be a scrum because there's 22 guys in a phone booth out there, but that's the way I'm understanding it is they couldn't see who recovered it physically and they couldn't see who recovered it from the review, so that part cannot be changed."
In addition to Francis himself, one person who claims that he did clearly see who recovered the fumble was Dolphins' defensive end Kendall Langford.
"Ike recovered it. Straight up, Ike recovered it. There's no doubt Ike recovered it," he said. "Some guys on the Internet had great pictures of the ball laying there ad Ike going towards it, so he recovered it and I think we just got got. A lot of guys were around but I didn't even get my hands on it. I tried to but I couldn't get my hands on it. Ike had it. He was at the bottom balled up. I assume he was balled up at the bottom. Nobody got it from him. I heard 'white ball,' and i just knew it was our ball."
When he was told that Roethlisberger claimed he had his arm wrapped around the ball Langford's eyes got big.
"If he said he had it I know that's a lie," added Langford.
Meanwhile, veteran quarterback Chad Pennington was still shaking his head less than 24 hours later having seen lots of strange things over his career, and he recalls the play two years ago involving then Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler against the San Diego Chargers when the whistle blew too soon on what later was determined to be a fumble and not an incomplete pass.
"I think personally that in crucial situations like that at the end of the game you have to make the call that's going to allow you to take a look at the replay," Pennington said. "To me the correct call is to call it a fumble. That way the play's not blown dead and then you go back to see if it was a touchdown. It's not about who's right or who's wrong, it's about getting the right call. So you err on the side of making the call that's going to allow you to replay it to get the right call made. You can't make a call that's going to just blow the call dead. ... We've got to look at not worrying about whether the referee makes the call right the first time, make the correct call to allow it to be replayed. That's why we have instant replay, to get it right, not to still mess it up."
Check out the video below and let us know what you think about the call: