Dolphins recovery not definitive on replay

MIAMI -- Ikaika Alama-Francis thought he'd made the play of his life.

With 2:37 left in the game and the Miami Dolphins clinging to a two-point lead Sunday afternoon, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scrambled for the end zone on third-and-goal from the 2.

Roethlisberger was met at the goal line by diving Dolphins safety Chris Clemons, who jarred the ball loose. Alama-Francis, the Dolphins' run-stopping outside linebacker, appeared to pounce on the ball to preserve a colossal victory.

"I know I had possession of the ball," Alama-Francis said. "I'm thinking 'I just made the play that won us the game.' "

That, however, is not what happened.

Officials ruled Roethlisberger had broken the plane and scored a touchdown. That call would be overturned by video replay after the Dolphins threw their red challenge flag.

But the recovery was not definitive enough to give the Dolphins the ball.

One play later, Jeff Reed kicked an 18-yard field goal. Pittsburgh won 23-22 in Sun Life Stadium.

"After review, it was confirmed in the replay the ball did come loose and it was a fumble prior to the ball breaking the goal line," referee Gene Steratore said. "That's where we go to the second aspect of that. In order to overturn this and give another team the football, I have to have clear video evidence of the team recovering the fumble. ... It is a pile of bodies in there, and you don't have a clear recovery."

Steratore went on to explain there was no need to make an on-the-field determination of which team recovered because the ruling on the field was a touchdown.

"When you have a challenge, naturally you are challenging the ruling on the field, which was a touchdown," Steratore said. "So when we go into replay, we find out, in fact, that it was, in fact, a fumble prior to the ball breaking the plane. But we have to continue with that aspect and find a clear recovery by the defense in order to reward them the ball."

Roethlisberger claimed he had the ball until the play was whistled dead. A pair of Steelers offensive linemen, Doug Legursky and Jonathan Scott, also claimed to have recovered the ball.

I asked Miami coach Tony Sparano if Steratore imparted any other information on the sideline.

"He told me that even though our guy came up with the football in the end zone and handed him the ball that he doesn't know who recovered it," Sparano said. "It was a scrum, and he couldn't see evidence of who recovered."