With 3:21 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Monday night game and the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-27 and facing a 4th and 9, punter Jordan Berry delivered a nice boot of the football that ultimately was downed by cornerback Cameron Sutton at the opponent’s one-yard-line. That seemingly great punt and subsequent downing of the football would not stand, however, as an illegal shift penalty called on wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey wiped it out.
“Illegal shift, offense, number 88 was not set,” referee Pete Morelli informed the crowd and television viewing audience. “5-yard penalty, still fourth down.”
Not only did Heyward-Bey receive a 5-yard penalty for an illegal shift, he also was penalized another 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for him arguing the illegal shift penalty on his way back to the line of scrimmage. After the penalty yardage was assessed, the Steelers were forced to punt again, and this time Berry kicked the football into the end zone for a touchback, which effectively resulted in a net loss of 19 yards.
During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin addressed the huge amount of penalties his team has been assessed not only Monday night, but in the first three games of the season and how players need to play cleaner even in highly emotional, primetime games such as the one against the Buccaneers. He was later asked if Heyward-Bey’s late-game unsportsmanlike penalty was one of those emotional penalties he was referring to and if he spoke to the veteran wide receiver and special teams demon about it after it happened.
“I didn’t say anything to him because I know DHB and I understand his attention to detail, his level of professionalism,” Tomlin said. “I thought it was something that we could sort out after the fact, it was too many moving parts and things going on at that juncture of the game. We had to kick a ball down into the red zone and then play defense. We talked about it after, but again, it’s less significant, we get an opportunity to talk about it after perspective changes and all of those things, the game was over.”
On Wednesday, Heyward-Bey was asked to give his thoughts on the back-to-back penalties he received on that previously mentioned Monday night punt and his response was very veteran-like.
“It shouldn’t happen, simple as that,” Heyward-Bey said, according to Mike Prisuta of DVE Radio. “I didn’t agree with the first one (illegal shift). If he wants to throw the second one, that’s on him. I can’t put my teammates, our team, in that situation.”
Immediately after the two penalties were issued to Heyward-Bey, one of the many irritating Pittsburgh sports DJs suggested on Twitter that the veteran wide receiver should be cut on Tuesday by the team should the Steelers ultimately lose the game. That hot take was extremely ridiculous and especially considering that Heyward-Bey is probably one of the most highly disciplined players on the team when it comes to keeping his emotions in check on top of him probably being one the more respected leaders in the locker room.
If you’ve watched Heyward-Bey play since his arrival in Pittsburgh, you know that he has a strong understanding of the rules of the game of football and can often be seen conferring with referees on the field when a questionable call or spotting of the football occurs. Because of that, I wasn’t shocked that Heyward-Bey argued his illegal shift penalty Monday night and even less shocked to learn that Tomlin really didn’t think anything of the veteran getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
As soon as the NFL released the all-22 tape of the Monday night game, I couldn’t wait to look at that 4th quarter punt to see if Heyward-Bey’s illegal shift penalty was justified because the veteran wide receiver rarely argues a call against him and definitely not to the degree he did after that punt. Strangely enough, that particular punt play on the all-22 is a bit inconclusive when it comes to Heyward-Bey illegal shifting because the tape starts right as the football is being snapped by long snapper Kameron Canaday. I have a zoomed split screen gif of the all-22 of that punt for you to see below along with the full all-22 view.
When looking at the two gifs, watch how not all the Buccaneers are set as the football is snapped. Additionally, watch how the referee in the backfield is still quickly moving backwards after seemingly just signaling the football ready to play. If Heyward-Bey is guilty of anything on that punt it’s him being late off the snap of the football. Additionally, the punt happened so quickly that the ESPN cameras did not show the snap of the football not Berry punting it. How many times do you see any play not covered from start to finish by television cameras during a game? Not many.
While I’m not saying that Heyward-Bey is totally excused for getting himself an unsportsmanlike penalty Monday night, I certainly can understand what led to him being so emotional about receiving the illegal shift penalty and especially considering his history as a Steeler. Even so, Heyward-Bey’s not going to excuse himself for getting that additional 15-yard penalty just the same.
“You can’t have personal fouls like I got – you can’t have that,” Heyward-Bey said Wednesday, according to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You’re going to have holding; its football. But the other stuff you’ve got to make sure you keep that out.
“You go into every game hoping you can clean that up,” he said moments later. “But it’s football, refs are going to throw flags, that’s part of your job. We just have to make sure we are doing our part.”