After this one, maybe they should be called the Pittsburgh Stealers.
The Steelers admittedly stole a game they probably should have lost in Miami, thanks to an official’s mistake that was compounded by an inconclusive TV replay. Count on this: It’s one ruling Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers (5-1) won’t be appealing to the NFL.
Maybe it was an undeserved lucky break, but it’s one that can decide division titles and playoff appearances. The Steelers don’t care. All they know is the scoreboard read Steelers 23, Dolphins 22 on Sunday, because — for of all reasons — their quarterback fumbled at the goal line.
After linebacker James Harrison was fined $75,000 last week for a punishing but non-penalized hit, Roethlisberger suggested some in the NFL didn’t like it that the Steelers own a league-high six Lombardi trophies.
Roethlisberger knows now he can’t complain after the Steelers got a gift victory that maintains their half-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens (5-2) in the AFC North.
“You hate to win it that way, but you’ll take the win,” Roethlisberger said.
No doubt the Dolphins (3-3) hate it a lot more.
With the Steelers down 22-20 with less than three minutes remaining, Roethlisberger fumbled as he neared the goal line on a quarterback draw from the 2-yard line. Head linesman Jerry Bergman signaled a touchdown, so the officials didn’t bother sorting out who recovered the fumble in the end zone.
Upon video review, referee Gene Steratore determined Roethlisberger fumbled before crossing the goal line. Because the replays didn’t show conclusively which team recovered the ball, the Steelers kept possession and Jeff Reed kicked a decisive 18-yard field goal.
“We caught a break,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “Sometimes you need luck and it was on our side.”
The play was so bizarre, Reed said, “I was running out to kick an extra point, then it turned out to be a field goal to win the game. It was the toughest 18-yard field goal that I’ve kicked.”
No doubt the Dolphins haven’t had many tougher losses. They probably won’t like this in South Florida, either: Steratore lives in Washington, Pa., about a half-hour from Pittsburgh, while Bergman is from Pittsburgh. No NFL rule prohibits officials from working games involving teams from the cities where they live or their hometown teams.
“I’m sure the Miami fans felt like they got slighted, cheated,” wide receiver Hines Ward said. “But we’re just going by the rules.”
Not that the Steelers are about to apologize for winning the opener of their first three-game, regular-season road trip since 1994.
Next up are the Super Bowl champion Saints (4-3) on Sunday night, followed by a Monday night game on Nov. 8 against division rival Cincinnati (2-4).
With the Saints stumbling — they lost Sunday to the Browns — and the talkative but underachieving Bengals proving to be big disappointments, the trip doesn’t look quite as difficult as it did when the NFL schedule was released in April.
The Steelers understand that good teams must take advantage of every break they can and, at least for now, there’s no evidence to prove they’re not one of the NFL’s best teams. The Jets (5-1) and Patriots (5-1) are the only other teams with one loss.
“It’s a good feeling,” Ward said. “Nobody on this earth predicted us to be 5-1. I like the direction where this team is headed.”
The win, however, came with a loss.
Pittsburgh’s defense, which played Sunday without defensive end Brett Keisel (hamstring), is expected to be without defensive end Aaron Smith for the rest of the season because of a torn triceps in his left arm. Smith is one of the NFL’s top run stoppers, and losing him is a major setback to a defense that allows a league-low 63.7 yards rushing per game.
That defense had major problems protecting leads last season as safety Troy Polamalu missed 11 full games and parts of two others with left knee injuries and Smith sat out the final 11 games with a torn right rotator cuff. Smith also missed the Steelers’ final four games in 2007 with a torn right biceps.
If Keisel can’t play at New Orleans, backup Nick Eason and 2009 first-round draft pick Ziggy Hood would be the starting ends in a defense that has allowed only one 100-yard rusher in 40 games.
“We’ll adapt and hopefully overcome it,” coach Mike Tomlin said.