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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Steelers' win aided by call -- and nobody knows if it was right

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MIAMI -- The team that brought us the Immaculate Reception gave us another play for the ages Sunday, and just like that catch some 38 years ago, nobody knows if this call was right or wrong.

All they know is this: The Pittsburgh Steelers might have stolen one just like they did years ago with that famed catch.

Pittsburgh (5-1) escaped Miami with a 23-22 victory over the Miami Dolphins thanks to a bizarre no-call in the closing minutes on a fumble into the end zone by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The third-down play, coming from the Miami 2 with 2:37 left, was initially called a touchdown, but after a booth review it was ruled a fumble. Since it wasn't apparent who recovered the football the ruling was a fumble but still Steelers ball. Jeff Reed then trotted out and made an 18-yard field goal for the winning points.

"It's is a pile of bodies in there and you don't have a clear recovery." NFL head referee Gene Steratore said in a pool report. "We confirmed that there was a fumble and were not able to confirm a clear recovery by the defense."

That set the stage for one of the great he-said, he-said debates after the game. I might be the only guy in the stadium who didn't say I recovered that fumble.

Roethlisberger said he had his arm on it. Backup tackle Jonathan Scott and guard Doug Legursky also said they had piece of the ball. In the Dolphins locker room, linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis said he had the ball, and he actually did come out of the pile with it.

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"I was under there holding onto it, I assume with one of their players," Roethlisberger said. "I was holding onto it, squeezing as tight as I could, until they told me to let go of it."

He said he let go because the official said it was a touchdown. The Dolphins insist one official said it was "white ball," meaning Miami recovered.

"It was mine, no doubt," Alama-Francis said.

In the end, it was a nobody's ball -- but the Steelers'. And nobody will know for sure if the right decision was made. The ruling was correct. Miami had to live with it. They had a chance to win it, but four plays netted nothing after they got the ball back and the Steelers escaped.

"Hurry up," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. "We have the buses warmed up."

That's code for they stole one.

They did so because of Roethlisberger, not because of some no-call in the end zone. The Steelers usually run the ball but couldn't on this day, which put the game on Roethlisberger's right arm.

In only his second start back after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy, Roethlisberger completed 19 of 27 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns -- 53 yards to Mike Wallace and 22 yards to Hines Ward.

Miami's Karlos Dansby, one of several players to get a hand on the fumble, says, '[The refs] took the game from us.' (AP)  
Miami's Karlos Dansby, one of several players to get a hand on the fumble, says, '[The refs] took the game from us.' (AP)  
Pressured much of the day, Roethlisberger did a great job sidestepping tacklers, keeping his head up and making big-time throws.

Any doubts about him being rusty should be erased. Scary thought of the week for Steelers opponents: He might be better than the pre-suspension Roethlisberger, and that guy won two Super Bowls.

"He understands the offense better than he did last year," Ward said. "He's looking down to his first, second and third reads. It's amazing. And his ability to extend plays makes him even more dangerous. All in all, he's getting back to form."

One thing is evident. This is a different Roethlisberger, in a lot of ways. He looks to be in much better shape, a trimmer body making him even more elusive. He also seems humbled by the whole off-the-field mess he helped create.

Roethlisberger has gone on many shows preaching how he's a changed man, and I saw some of that Sunday. He wasn't rude when I was in front of his locker while talking to Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, only politely asking me to move. In the past, that wouldn't have been the case. He also said "excuse me" to a person in front of him on his way out the locker room.

Those might not seem like big things, but they are different. Judging by Ward's comments, it sounds like Roethlisberger might be more into the playbook as well.

CBSSports.com Grades
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
B
The Steelers came into town and held down Miami’s running game, made a key late-game drive, and scored (although in controversial fashion) in the closing minutes to get a road victory. QB Ben Roethlisberger was efficient, passing for 302 yards, and the Steelers kept their cool late in the game.
Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
B-
Miami didn’t play badly and might have been the victim of a suspect call late in the game. Its defense was solid, shutting down Pittsburgh’s running game. It allowed 302 yards passing, but QB Chad Henne passed for 257 yards. Nice effort, tough way to fall to 0-3 at home.
By Chris Perkins
RapidReports Correspondent

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Is it an act, or is this a man who is growing up? There is no arguing with the results. In two games back, Roethlisberger has five touchdown passes and one interception.

"The maturation process is there," Ward said. "Every time we step into a huddle, we think we have a chance to win. He's starting to come around and get back to his old self."

Roethlisberger said he isn't totally back to his old self.

"I felt better," he said. "I still left quite a few things out there. I'm disappointed in myself, but with that being said a win is a win."

The best play Roethlisberger made wasn't one of his two touchdown throws or any of his completions. It was pulling his arm out from the pile during the scrum for the fumble.

"I heard, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, so I let go," Roethlisberger said. "I didn't want my arm broken."

Ward is glad he was thinking that way.

"Oh, yeah," Ward said. "We don't want that arm hurt."

The Dolphins, who are now 3-3, left the stadium with a bitter taste in their mouths.

"I ain't never been a part of no --- like that," Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "Not at all straight up. They took the game from us."

Not getting more than six points on two point-blank turnovers helped. Not moving the ball at all in the final two minutes also helped. And letting Roethlisberger make plays when he got outside the pocket led to plenty of damage as well.

The Dolphins can blame the call in the end zone, but they did their share to help out.

Now for the big question: Who did recover that fumble?

Like Frenchy Fuqua, the Steelers running back who has never revealed whether he touched that ball on the Immaculate Reception to make the play legal or not, we might never know.

Call it the Immaculate Deception.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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