Tough call was not reason Dolphins lost

Ben Roethlisberger's goal-line fumble may not have gone Miami's way, but it's not the reason the Dolphins lost the game, Tim Graham writes. AP Photo/Alan Diaz

MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins and their fans have every right to be upset over the late call that went against them Sunday afternoon.

To say that was the reason they couldn't close out the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, would be erroneous.

With the help of a fortuitous ruling on a Ben Roethlisberger fumble Miami appeared to recover, Pittsburgh escaped Sun Life Stadium with a 23-22 victory.

"We will take it and exit stage left," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Dolphins seemed to snatch the game with 2:28 to play. They were clinging to a two-point lead against the driving Steelers when safety Chris Clemons knocked the ball from Roethlisberger's grasp at the goal line. Dolphins linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis appeared to recover in the end zone, but video replays were inconclusive to referee Gene Steratore, and the Steelers retained possession.

Jeff Reed kicked an 18-yard field goal to give the Steelers a one-point triumph.

A Dolphins win would have been gargantuan. Given the Steelers' profile as one of the NFL's handful of elite teams, the Dolphins would've been mentioned as legitimate contenders.

Instead, the Dolphins returned to .500 and remained winless through three home games.

But Steratore's ruling wasn't the reason.

"It was a big play in the game, but it shouldn't have come down to that play," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win, but we didn't."

Not awarding Miami the fumble recovery is a convenient way to overlook a few issues that allowed the game to be decided by one bad break:

  • Poor red zone offense.

  • Poor two-minute offense.

  • Poor third-down defense.

The Dolphins failed to score touchdowns despite starting their first possessions at the Steelers' 22- and 13-yard lines within the first 1:58 of the game.

Sparano bemoaned his offense's inability to get at least 10 points out of those glorious opportunities.

"We could be up 14-0 right off the bat," Dolphins left tackle Jake Long said. "But we didn't start fast enough. We've got to be better than that."

Each time, the Dolphins failed to convert a first down and didn't take any shots into the end zone. Ronnie Brown ran once for 1 yard. Ricky Williams ran three times for 0, 8 and 0 yards. Chad Henne threw two short incomplete passes.

"Field goals are great to have, but in this situation we needed touchdowns," Sparano said. "When you get down there with that many opportunities, you have to convert them into touchdowns. That's the bottom line."

Settling for a field goal would have been wonderful after Pittsburgh converted that controversial call into a late lead.

The Dolphins had 2:26 left to get Pro Bowl kicker Dan Carpenter within field-goal range, but gained 4 yards on four plays against an injury-ravaged defense.

Carpenter made five field goals in the game and has a robust leg. He has made field goals from 53 yards and 50 yards this year. The Dolphins' offense should have been able to move the ball, especially with outside linebacker Lamarr Woodley and defensive end Aaron Smith sidelined with injuries.

The Dolphins work on their two-minute offense every practice. Sparano usually puts them into situations with a minute less than they had Sunday.

The Dolphins were out of timeouts, but they had the two-minute warning, a strong-armed quarterback, star receiver Brandon Marshall and pair of quality running backs.

"We felt strongly in that situation we'd be able to get the ball down the field and have plenty of time on the clock," Sparano said.

In the rain, Brown ran up the middle for 2 yards on first down. Henne got off a snap right before the two-minute warning and threw a quick pass. But tight end Anthony Fasano dropped it to set up a tough third down while wasting a precious clock-stoppage.

On third-and-8, Henne tossed to fullback Lousaka Polite, who gained only 2 yards and was tackled inbounds. Amid a heavy Pittsburgh pass rush on fourth down, Henne frantically got the ball out of his hands, but the ugly pass hit the grass.

Miami's offense wasn't alone in its struggles.

Pittsburgh moved the chains on third-down plays of 16, 11 and 9 yards. On third-and-5 from Miami's 43-yard line on the decisive drive, Mewelde Moore gained 29 yards on a dump pass. One play later, Miami defensive lineman Tony McDaniel committed an unnecessary roughness penalty to give Pittsburgh first-and-goal from the 4.

Pittsburgh converted six of its 15 third downs.

Steratore had nothing to do with a lot of problems Miami had Sunday.

"If you lose, you lose," Dolphins inside linebacker Channing Crowder said. "You can make all the excuses, but our record's 3-3. There's not going to be an asterisk next to the third loss. Who cares? Good call, bad call, I don't know the rules. But we should've won. We never should have been in that situation. To put it in the ref's hands was our fault."