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Ben’s backup says he didn’t fumble on purpose

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 29: Head Coach Mike Tomlin speaks with Ben Roethlisberger #7 and Bruce Gradkowski #5 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on December 29, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Browns 20-7. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

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One of the more unusual stories to come out of the NFL in the last week is the allegation that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fumbled on purpose late in the fourth quarter of a big game in 2014, just to spite offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

The story sounds crazy, but it comes from a reputable source: The teammate who recovered the fumble, former Steelers running back Josh Harris.

However, another former teammate, Bruce Gradkowski, is saying the story is false. Gradkowski was Roethlisberger’s backup at the time and says he remembers the play well and is certain Roethlisberger’s fumble was an honest mistake, not a deliberate one. According to Gradkowski, Roethlisberger fumbled because the play had the fullback in the I-formation, when ordinarily the Steelers ran that type of play from an offset I-formation, and Roethlisberger didn’t realize the fullback was right behind him when he turned around to hand the ball off. Gradkowski says the Steelers changed their offensive terminology after that fumble to give the quarterback a reminder that the fullback would be directly behind him.

It seems odd that the Steelers would need to change their play calling after Week 17 because their veteran quarterback made such a fundamental mistake like that. Gradkowski’s explanation may be a more charitable explanation than Harris’s, but neither explanation speaks well for Roethlisberger.