The missed spot gave the Steelers 10 yards and made it possible for them to close out the half with a 50-yard field goal.
The play occurred with 57 seconds remaining in the second quarter, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a 17-yard pass to receiver Antonio Brown across the middle. Titans cornerback Adoree Jackson popped the ball loose as Brown was running for extra yardage, forcing a fumble at the Titans 42. Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant recovered the ball at the 32, and place-kicker Chris Boswell kicked the field goal from that spot four plays later.
Referee Ronald Torbert should have spotted the ball at the 42 -- the original spot of Brown's fumble -- because of a rule established in 1979 that prohibits anyone other than the player who fumbled from advancing a fumble in the final two minutes of a half. The rule was enacted after Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler intentionally fumbled a ball forward with 10 seconds remaining in a game. Tight end Dave Casper recovered it in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown.
"That spot was not correct. The spot cost us a field goal. It cost momentum. It cost a lot of things" Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said after the game.
Rule 8, Section 7, Article 6 of the NFL rulebook stipulates that "the player who fumbled is the only player of his team who is permitted to recover and advance the ball." It goes on to say that "if the recovery ... is by a teammate of the player who fumbled, the ball is dead, and the spot of the next snap is the spot of the fumble."
The NFL grades officiating crews weekly on every call from their most recent games. The league has disciplined crews for egregious mistakes, especially if they relate to the administration of rules rather than subjective errors of judgment.
"I didn't argue with them. They agreed it was the wrong spot," Mularkey said. "I'll be in trouble for that, but you what, that's the way it is. Say it like it is. Quit hiding things. It was the wrong spot, and it made a difference. We lost three points because of it."