The late stages of today’s game had so many big moments that were significant momentum swings that, at the time that they occurred, felt as though they could provide the difference. One of those moments was a play on fourth and two by the New Orleans Saints on the other side of the two minutes warning.
With the ball at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 26-yard line and down by a margin of 28-24, Drew Brees looked for his top target, Michael Thomas on a pass short left, but Joe Haden was able to get a hand on it to deflect it.
The problem was that he got contact with the receiver early and drew a defensive pass interference penalty. Normally, this would be an open and shut case, but it also appeared as though Brees’ pass may have been tipped and redirected at the line of scrimmage.
Had that indeed been the case, it would have negated the pass interference, as though it had never occurred, and the Steelers would have gotten the ball back at their own 26-yard line with under two minutes to play and a four-point lead.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about that after the game. “I thought it was tipped, but I didn’t have the courtesy of a replay”, he said. “We were asking for clarity on it, but you know, things start moving fast in those moments”.
To be clear, the play occurred after the two-minute warning, which means that Tomlin could not have thrown a challenge flag on the play if he wanted to. The booth would have had to call for a review, and honestly it seemed to merit taking a closer look, especially considering that is what they did later for Antonio Brown’ 19-yard conversion on fourth and 15 on the Steelers’ subsequent drive.
That call wasn’t the only notable one by the officials during the game. Haden was also flagged for long defensive pass interference penalty on fourth down in the first half. Gene Steratore said that it shouldn’t have been flagged, among others, but it was. So instead of a turnover on downs, the Saints got the ball on the one-yard line and scored a play later.
Tomlin wasn’t interested in engaging in talking about the officiating, which has been a theme in more than a couple of the Steelers’ games this year. He merely offered that “the officiating didn’t determine the outcome of the game, and we find comfort in that”.
The league can’t fine fans for complaining about the officiating though, and I’m sure we all will do plenty of complaining. Still, the Steelers had control of what happened at the end of the game. And it looked like they would at least have a chance to tie and send it into overtime. They also had the Saints in a third and 20 after the late DPI.