PITTSBURGH (AP) - A clock error added 52 seconds to the fourth quarter of the Patriots-Steelers game Sunday. The extra time aided the Patriots during a winning drive that ended with Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal with 1 second remaining.
The Patriots won 23-20, their fourth victory against the Steelers in five games since 2001, including AFC championship game victories during the 2001 and 2004 seasons.
The NFL acknowledged the mistake Monday, with director of officiating Mike Pereira issuing a statement: "The on-field officiating crew, which oversees the official game clock operated in the press box, failed to recognize that the clock was improperly reset."
The mistake occurred after the second play of the fourth quarter, a reverse by Steelers wide receiver Cedrick Wilson for no gain on second-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 30 with the Steelers ahead 13-10.
There were 14 minutes, 51 seconds remaining when the play started and, by the time, a false start penalty was called on Steelers guard Kendall Simmons, the Heinz Field clock had run down to 13:59.
But before the next play started, the clock reverted back to 14:51 - the time left before the Wilson run. Ben Roethlisberger's incompletion on third-and-15 lasted 14 seconds and Chris Gardocki's 51-yard punt took up 10 seconds, meaning the Patriots got the ball back with 14:19 remaining in the game rather than 13:27 if the error hadn't occurred.
According to former NFL official Chuck Heberling, who observes the officials in a league-appointed capacity, an NFL employee in New York spotted the error and immediately called officials supervisor Johnny Grier. Grier was sitting with Heberling in the press box.
"We checked it out with the statisticians and, according to his records, everything seemed to be all right," Heberling said. As a result, no move was made to try to correct the error.
The mistake showed up when the officiating crew, headed by referee Bill Carollo, reviewed the CBS game tape with Grier and Heberling during their usual post-game meeting in a Pittsburgh hotel.
"When we ran the tape, it was obvious it (the clock) was jumping," Heberling said.
The clock operators - there are two, one for the game clock and the other for the play clock - are locally based but hired by the league. The Steelers did not identify them, and they are not listed with the other officials on the league's statistical report.
"It's a very unusual thing," Heberling said.
The mistake caused the final quarter to last 15 minutes, 52 seconds, extra time that proved invaluable to New England after the Steelers tied it at 20 on Roethlisberger's 4-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward with 1:21 remaining.
After New England got the ball at its 38, Tom Brady needed only 31 seconds to complete passes of 17, 14 and 6 yards to set up Vinatieri's third field goal of the game. Forty-five seconds ran off between the time Brady found David Givens for 6 yards to the Steelers 25 and Vinatieri kicked the decisive field goal.
Steelers president Dan Rooney was unaware of the mistake until being alerted Monday by reporters.
"There's nothing to say. The game's over," Rooney said. "It's not going to change the score."
"90% of the game is half mental" - John Madden