Ex-NFL exec: Refs handled call right

Updated: October 25, 2010, 6:39 PM ET
Associated Press

DAVIE, Fla. -- Upon further review, the Dolphins-Steelers officiating crew made only one mistake on the pivotal play of the game.

That's small consolation to the Dolphins, who felt as though they were robbed of a win by "Stealers."

The lone officiating error -- a biggie -- was the initial ruling of a touchdown for Ben Roethlisberger, former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said Monday.

There must be a clear recovery by the defense in order to reverse to a touchback. If there is a pileup and you can't see who recovered the ball, or a long delay with players stopping before the ball is recovered, the offense retains possession.

-- NFL's Instant Replay Manual

After that, Pereira said, the crew handled the situation correctly, despite debate about the subsequent replay review and explanation of the final ruling.

The ruling proved crucial in Miami's 23-22 loss.

"For the game to end like that and us to get the raw end of a deal, it hurts," safety Yeremiah Bell said.

The Dolphins (3-3) had a right to be angry, because the erroneous TD call by the head linesman may have cost them the game. Miami linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis emerged from an end-zone pile with the ball fumbled by Roethlisberger with 2:30 left.

A replay review determined Roethlisberger's touchdown was instead a fumble, but because the video didn't provide clear evidence as to which team recovered, Pittsburgh kept the ball and kicked the winning field goal on the next play.

Because the touchdown was overturned, only the video review could determine which team recovered the fumble, said Pereira, now the officiating analyst for Fox. Any ruling on the field as to which team recovered was irrelevant, because the play is considered over when a touchdown signal is given, and the officials don't continue to officiate.

Regarding the recovery, conclusive video evidence is required.

"There must be a clear recovery by the defense in order to reverse to a touchback," the league's Instant Replay Manual says. "If there is a pileup and you can't see who recovered the ball, or a long delay with players stopping before the ball is recovered, the offense retains possession."

Said Pereira: "Once you decide it was fumbled, you have to find out if there's indisputable visual evidence of one player recovering the ball before it enters into any kind of a pile. It's not what happens when a player comes out of a pile."

Pereira said the rules allow for players to play beyond the whistle to recover a loose ball, even if the play has been blown dead, and Roethlisberger's fumble triggered a scramble.

Various Steelers claimed Roethlisberger, Jonathan Scott or Doug Legursky recovered the ball. The Dolphins all said it was Francis.

If the linesman hadn't signaled a touchdown, the scrum would have determined possession.

"If the officials had ruled it a fumble, they would have been in the pile digging the ball out, and it would have been survival of the fittest," Pereira said. "If Miami had come up with the ball at that point, it would have been Miami's ball."

For that reason, Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington argued, the linesman shouldn't have been so quick to signal a touchdown. That way the officials on the field would have determined who recovered the ball.

"If it looked like the ball was loose, play it out," Pennington said. "Don't throw your hands up in the air, especially in the last two stinking minutes of the game."

But Pereira said officials aren't trained to hold back on blowing the whistle to let replay sort out a situation.

"You make the call your instinct tells you to make," he said.

Coach Tony Sparano said the Dolphins wrote the league requesting an explanation, but he expects nothing to change. And he noted many other factors contributed to the defeat.

"The thing I'm most frustrated about is just that we got close against a good football team in that situation and didn't finish," he said.

The Dolphins repeatedly squandered chances to score touchdowns, instead settling five times for field goals. They were again plagued by mistakes in kick coverage and pass coverage. Even after the disputed call, they had a chance to come back but gained only 4 yards in an ugly four-play sequence, losing the ball on downs.

As a result, the Dolphins dropped their fifth game in a row at home, a streak that goes back to last season. They're the first team since the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals to start a season 0-3 at home and 3-0 on the road, according to STATS LLC.

The good news: They're on the road Sunday -- at Cincinnati.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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