MIAMI — With the game up for grabs, Ben Roethlisberger found himself part of an end-zone scrum so frantic the officials were unable to determine who had the ball.
That gave the game to the Steelers.
A video review determined Roethlisberger's late touchdown was instead a fumble, but because it was unclear who recovered, Pittsburgh kept the ball and kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play to beat the Miami Dolphins 23-22.
"Just a bizarre kind of play. You hate to win it that way, but you'll take a win," Roethlisberger said.
Said Miami linebacker Channing Crowder: "The refs called a wonderful game — for the Steelers."
With Pittsburgh trailing 22-20 and facing third-and-goal at the 2, Roethlisberger fumbled as he dived across the goal line on a quarterback draw. The play was ruled a touchdown as both teams scrambled for the ball.
After a review, referee Gene Steratore announced Roethlisberger fumbled before scoring. But Steratore said replays were inconclusive regarding which team recovered, and the Steelers were awarded possession at the half-yard line, allowing Jeff Reed to kick an 18-yard field goal with 2:26 left.
"I have to have clear video evidence of the team recovering the fumble," Steratore said after the game. "It is a pile of bodies in there, and you don't have a clear recovery."
Several Dolphins argued Miami linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis recovered.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was still shaking his head about the narrow escape when he met with reporters.
"Make it quick," he said. "We've got the buses warming up."
AFC North leader Pittsburgh improved to 5-1 and remained unbeaten on the road. The Steelers won despite losing three starters with injuries: linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring), defensive end Aaron Smith (left arm) and tackle Flozell Adams (left ankle).
Miami fell to 3-3, with all the defeats at home and all the wins on the road.
Roethlisberger, playing his second game since returning from his suspension, finished 19 for 27 for 302 yards and two scores. But the Dolphins' point total was the highest against stingy Pittsburgh this year.
The game was the first for the league's top-scoring defense since the NFL crackdown on illegal hits, a move precipitated in part by a helmet hit by Pittsburgh's James Harrison, who drew a $75,000 fine.
Maybe that robbed the Steelers of a little zeal. The Dolphins' Chad Henne threw for 257 yards, and they took the 22-20 lead when Dan Carpenter kicked his fourth field goal with 5:17 left.
Emmanuel Sanders returned the kickoff 48 yards against the Dolphins' shaky kick-coverage unit, and when Mewelde Moore turned a short pass into a 29-yard gain, the Steelers appeared on the verge of victory.
On third-and-goal, Roethlisberger took two steps back, then ran up the middle and lunged for the end zone. Chris Clemons hit him to jar the ball loose.
"I thought he broke my arm, he hit me so hard," Roethlisberger said. "My arm kind of went numb."
The debate about what happened next continued long after the game.
"I saw the ball sitting right in front of me," Roethlisberger said. "One of their guys jumped on it, and it squirted between them, so I was able to grab it under the pile."
Roethlisberger said he cradled the ball in his right arm, but he conceded a Dolphins player — Francis — also had a piece of it.
"I'm not denying he wasn't holding onto it," Roethlisberger said. "How do you tell who recovered the ball?"
Francis said he stood up with the ball.
"I just don't understand the ruling," he said. "I had possession."3 comments on this story
The crowd booed as Reed trotted onto the field to kick the winner. The Dolphins had a chance to make the ruling moot with a last-minute comeback, but they lost the ball on downs, gaining only 4 yards in four plays.
The Dolphins recovered fumbles at the Pittsburgh 22 and 13 in the first 2 minutes but settled for a field goal each time. Their failure to take control early proved costly.
"We shouldn't have put it in the refs' hands," Crowder said. "As we see, they can make some bad calls sometimes."
Notes: Miami kick returner Nolan Carroll left the game with an ankle injury. ... Magic Johnson stood near the Dolphins bench before the game visiting with team owner Stephen Ross. ... For the second consecutive game, the Dolphins didn't use the wildcat. ... The Steelers have defeated Miami five times in a row.