MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Having just picked the pockets of the bewildered Miami Dolphins, the Steelers were looking for a fast exit before ... who knows?
"Hurry up guys," coach Mike Tomlin told the news media as he entered their room following the Steelers' bizarre, 23-22 victory Sunday. "We have the buses warmed up."
Perhaps Tomlin remembered what Miami went through 10 years ago to win a game in New England by three points. The game ended, the teams left the field, and the Dolphins celebrated clinching the division. Ten minutes later, referee Johnny Grier informed Miami coach Dave Wannstedt that his team had to return to the field because the officials blew the call that was overturned by replay (Miami finished the win 35 minutes later).
Not a bad idea by Tomlin to leave quickly after referee Gene Steratore Jr., a Uniontown native who lives in Washington, Pa., ruled in the Steelers' favor on an unusual play near the end of the game.
"I just want to get out of town," Tomlin declared.
Dan Carpenter had given Miami a 22-20 lead by kicking his fifth field goal of the game, from 40 yards with 5:17 to go.
Rookie Emmanuel Sanders returned the kickoff 48 yards to Miami's 48, and the Steelers began what they hoped would be the winning drive. With the help of a 29-yard checkdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mewelde Moore, the Steelers moved to a first down at Miami's 4.
They ran twice to the 2, and then Roethlisberger, from the shotgun formation, took the snap and ran a quarterback draw. As he dived for the goal line, safety Chris Clemons hit him and popped the ball loose. The officials ruled it was a touchdown.
Miami coach Tony Sporano challenged the play and, after reviewing it, Steratore, ruled it a fumble. Steratore and his crew, however, could not determine who had recovered the ball in the end zone, so they gave the Steelers the ball at the 1.
"It was kind of crazy," Roethlisberger said. "Just a bizarre kind of play."
Jeff Reed then kicked an 18-yard field goal to put the Steelers ahead with 2:26 to go, and the Steelers defense made it stand up.
"It is a pile of bodies in there, and you don't have a clear recovery," Steratore told a pool reporter. "We confirmed that there was a fumble and were not able to confirm a clear recovery by the defense."
Players from both teams claimed they had recovered the football in the end zone, but because a touchdown was called -- by Pittsburgh native Jerry Bergman -- no one bothered to determine who had possession.
"When you look at the sideline angle of the play, you knew the ball was out before it crossed the plane," Tomlin acknowledged. "Then, it was an issue if they had clear recovery. Felt good about the fact they didn't, but it was fortunate for us."
Just another bizarre ending to the bizarre beginning of the Steelers' season that has them leading the AFC North Division at 5-1.
Tomlin said they were fortunate to beat the Dolphins (3-3) not necessarily because of the fumbledoozie but because they did not play well. They also apparently lost defensive end Aaron Smith for the season with a torn triceps muscle in his left arm.
"We weren't very good today," Tomlin said.
Roethlisberger, though, was good. So were Mike Wallace, Hines Ward and a defense that shut down another good ground game.
In his second game after serving a four-game suspension, Roethlisberger completed 19 of 27 passes for 302 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns, to Ward and Wallace in the second quarter. His first touchdown was a 21-yarder to Ward, who eluded two tacklers to run most of the way to put the Steelers ahead, 10-6, in the second quarter.
"I don't get balls like Mike where he just outruns guys and catches it like that," said Ward, who caught seven passes for 131 yards. "For me, I got to get all I can on every chance I get to get my hands on the ball."
Wallace touched the ball twice. One reception went for no yards. The other covered 53 yards for a touchdown. It occurred on the first play of a series after Carpenter's 22-yard field goal cut the Steelers' lead to 10-9.
Wallace lined up on the left side and ran as fast as he could in a straight line, blowing by cornerback Jason Allen. Roethlisberger hit him perfectly in stride -- and then was hit himself, to the ground. Wallace caught it at the 5 and took it in for the score, his fourth of the season and his fifth catch of more than 40 yards.
"I don't feel like nobody can stop us from catching bombs," Wallace said, "because that's what I do. I can get behind anybody at any time, whenever my coaches want me to. All you got to do is throw it up."
Said Roethlisberger, "Like I always say with Mike, I just let it fly and don't underthrow him."
That touchdown gave the Steelers a 17-9 lead. They had erased an early, 6-0 Miami lead when Carpenter kicked short field goals to convert Sanders' fumble on the opening kickoff and Roethlisberger's fumble as he was getting sacked.
Miami's scores all came on Carpenter field goals of 39, 23 and 22 yards until the Dolphins drove 80 yards late in the half to score their first touchdown, a 26-yard pass from Chad Henne to Davone Bess with 1:50 to go to cut the lead to a point.
After the Steelers held a 17-16 lead at halftime, the kickers traded field goals in the third quarter. Reed put the Steelers on top by four with a 39-yarder and Carpenter kicked his fourth for the Dolphins, from 37.
It was a good thing Roethlisberger again was sharp because he got little from his ground game. Rashard Mendenhall ran for just 37 yards on 15 carries as the Steelers managed 58 yards rushing. On the other hand, the Dolphins' usually productive ground game got little more (64 yards).
"This is a very physical game, and that's a very physical team over there," Roethlisberger noted. "Guys got beat up, and we have some injuries, so it's a credit to both teams for fighting all the way to the end."
Even as the buses warmed up.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published October 25, 2010 4:00 AM