PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown stood at midfield, hands on hips and mouth agape, and stared toward the south end zone at Heinz Field, where a replay of the game’s final play was flashing across the video board.
Brown saw it, his tiny misstep, and turned away, shaking his head.
It was an ending so zany it nearly defies explanation.
“I was in shock, really,” Dolphins tailback Daniel Thomas said.
“I was thinking, no, this can’t be happening,” cornerback Brent Grimes said.
“I was just in disbelief,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
The simple version is this: With one second on the clock, Roethlisberger took a snap from his own 20-yard line trailing 34-28. He completed a pass, but Pittsburgh’s comeback attempt fell short, ending at the Miami 12-yard line.
The full version tells a far better story.
Roethlisberger’s pass went 20 yards downfield to Emmanuel Sanders, and thus began a high-stakes game of Hot Potato. In quick succession along the home sideline, Sanders pitched to Jerricho Cotchery and Cotchery pitched to Le’Veon Bell.
Bell lofted a backward pass to Marcus Gilbert, an offensive tackle, who rumbled for two yards and pitched back to Roethlisberger. As he was being hauled down, the quarterback made a desperation heave across (or was it? It appeared to be an illegal forward lateral) to Brown.
Now, after five laterals and a full 16 seconds after the original snap, Brown slipped past a defender and sprinted up the visitor sideline. He blew past Reshad Jones at midfield and there was only man between Brown and an inconceivable game-winning touchdown.
Chris Clemons, a fifth-year safety, was that last man.
“The whole time, my heart was going crazy,” Clemons said in the locker room, drumming his chest in a speedy rhythm.
Clemons forced Brown toward the sideline, but a diving attempt at Brown’s ankles left him grasping at air. Clemons buried his facemask into the turf; Brown galloped into the end zone and the crowd of 52,489 whipped into a frenzied euphoria.
But the side judge didn’t hesitate for a moment. The official who had followed Brown the length of the field immediately blew his whistle and waved his arms. Brown had stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard line, his left foot extended no more than an inch over the white line.
“Oh man, I was relieved,” Clemons said.
“I thought I had it clean,” Brown said.
Grimes, the first player Brown had slipped past, was giddy in the locker room.
“I don’t care how you do it — win by 60, or win at the last snap,” Grimes said. “It’s a win, and that’s all that counts.”
Thomas said the finish reminded him of Alabama’s last-second loss to Auburn two weeks ago, when the Tigers returned a missed field goal at the end of regulation for a game-winning touchdown.
That comparison might actually have been more apt for the end of the first half — another wild turn of events.
With 21 seconds left in the half, Dolphins kicker Cody Sturgis left a 52-yard field goal attempt short.
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu caught the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone and started back the other way. He ran into traffic and the ball pitched back to lineman Steve McClendon, who handed off to cornerback Ike Taylor.
It took a touchdown-saving tackle by defensive end Derrick Shelby to keep Taylor out of the end zone.
In game nearly impossible to explain, Dolphins defensive end Jared Odrick provided a proper summation of the finish.
“It was a ridiculous play,” Odrick said. “I’m just glad we won.”