Just so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, this needs to be said right off the bat. The officials did not cost the Steelers the game against the Ravens. A terrible start on offense, an inability to score touchdowns off of turnovers, and a late fumble had much more to do with the loss than the guys wearing the stripes. At the same time, though, it would be silly to say that the officiating in this game was anything but terrible. Both teams were on the wrong side of numerous bad calls throughout the game, and below you will find some of the worst examples.
Roughing the Passer?
This one has been the most talked about officiating miscue from the game, and for good reasons. Of all the bad calls from the game, this call had the most direct impact on the outcome of the game. Ola Adeniyi was called for roughing the pass on Lamar Jackson with 2:20 to go in the game. As you can see in the video below, it was a terrible call.
According to the official NFL operations website, a pass rusher “is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below… even if the initial contact is above the knee.” The key word here is clearly “forcibly.” It is specified, though, that “it is not a foul if the defender swipes or grabs a passer in the knee area or below in an attempt to tackle him, provided he does not make forcible contact with the helmet, shoulder, chest, or forearm.” Though it won’t happen, it would be nice to see everyone’s buddy Al Riveron make a video and try to defend the call on this play. This was the worst call from the game, but not the only bad call. Not even close.
What is a Catch?
Ahh.. the age old question that still has no definitive answer, apparently. The good news for the Steelers is that they were on the right side of this bad call. On 3rd and 8 at the Ravens 32 yard line, Devlin Hodges hit a wide open Diontae Johnson on a 15 yard out to get the first down. The issue? Johnson dropped the ball as he was trying to turn upfield. At least that’s what it looked like. The referee ruled that Johnson possessed the ball and then fumbled it out of bounds, giving the Steelers a first down. Surprisingly, John Harbaugh lost the challenge, as the call on the field stood.
CBS rules analyst and former NFL official Gene Steratore said on the broadcast that the call should have been overturned. He explained that in order to have a catch, there needs to be possession, two steps, and a football move in that order. On this play, it seemed obvious that Johnson didn’t catch the ball. By the time he had clean possession of the ball, he didn’t even get two steps in before it slipped out. Of the three aspects of a catch, Johnson didn’t even fulfill two of them. This call really hurt the Ravens, as it left them with no challenges and two timeouts remaining for the last 20 minutes of football.
The first of two bad offsides/neutral zone infraction calls came against TJ Watt in the first quarter. Though it can’t be said with 100% certainty without having the official’s view, this appeared to be a bad call with the angles we were given. Yes, Watt was approaching the line of scrimmage and was probably the reason that the offensive lineman flinched. But, there was no angle that showed any part of Watt’s body being offsides. Thankfully, this didn’t turn out to be a big deal, as the Ravens were already in field goal range when this play happened and their drive ended with three points.
In the second quarter, there was another bad offsides call, this one on Pernell McPhee of the Ravens. This one is bad, and it’s apparent even with the less than opitmal camera angles. McPhee, at the top of the screen, was lined up a whole yard off of the ball. His small flinch couldn’t have moved his head a yard forward, and he definitely was not across the line of scrimmage. The call was a big deal to the Ravens, as they had a sack for a seven yard loss taken away by the call. Depending what would’ve ensued, another sack or an offensive penalty could’ve pushed the Steelers out of field goal range. Instead, after the penalty, the Steelers got comfortably into field goal range and took their three points. Calls like these won’t be talked about as much as pass interference or roughing the passer calls, but it’s important to have the discussion and attempt to hold the NFL accountable for the poor officiating.