Tom Brady, among the league's best in late-game drives, led the Patriots down field for the winning score against the Steelers in 1:21 on Sunday.
But could he have done it in 29 seconds?
The NFL confirmed Monday that the game clock was improperly set early in the fourth quarter, adding 52 seconds to the game.
The error occurred at the beginning of the fourth quarter. With 14:51 remaining, Steelers receiver Cedric Wilson ran a reverse and was held to no gain; the play ran the clock down to 13:59.
A false start was called on Steelers guard Kendall Simmons on the next play, but instead of resetting the clock to 13:59, the clock operator set it back to 14:51 -- the time before Wilson's running play began. No one noticed the error, including the officiating crew.
Mike Pereira, the NFL's senior director of officiating, spoke to coaches Bill Cowher and Bill Belichick about the error on Monday and addressed it in a prepared statement.
"The on-field officiating crew, which oversees the official game clock operated in the press box, failed to recognize that the clock was improperly reset," he said.
According to former NFL official Chuck Heberling, who observes
the officials in a league-appointed capacity, an NFL employee in
New York spotted the error and immediately called officials
supervisor Johnny Grier. Grier was sitting with Heberling in the
"We checked it out with the statisticians and, according to his
records, everything seemed to be all right," Heberling said. As a
result, no move was made to try to correct the error.
The mistake showed up when the officiating crew, headed by
referee Bill Carollo, reviewed the CBS game tape with Grier and
Heberling during their usual post-game meeting in a Pittsburgh
"When we ran the tape, it was obvious it [the clock] was
jumping," Heberling said.
The clock operators -- there are two, one for the game clock and
the other for the play clock -- are locally-based but hired by the
league. The Steelers did not identify them, and they are not listed
with the other officials on the league's statistical report.
"It's a very unusual thing," Heberling said.
With those extra 52 seconds in place, the Steelers rallied to tie the game 20-20 on Ben Roethlisberger's 4-yard TD pass to Hines Ward with 1:21 remaining.
But that was enough time for Brady to lead the Patriots into position for Adam Vinatieri, the league's best clutch kicker, to make a 43-yard field goal with one second remaining to beat the Steelers 23-20 at Heinz Field.
Steelers president Dan Rooney was unaware of the mistake until
being alerted Monday by reporters.
"There's nothing to say. The game's over," Rooney said. "It's
not going to change the score."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.