If you want to look up “fanatical effort” in the dictionary, Cam Heyward’s 36-yard chase down of Justin Herbert will be the first thing that pops up. It’s rare to see a defensive lineman make a tackle ten yards downfield but Heyward huffed and puffed all the way downfield to prevent Justin Herbert from running into the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, the play ended on a sour note, Heyward called for a personal foul after seeming to punch Herbert, still laying on the ground. After the game, Heyward told reporters there was no malicious intent behind the penalty.
“Man, to be honest, I was running after the ball and I caught my hand under,” he said in his post-game press conference. “And so when I was trying to get up, I couldn’t get up and I fell back on him. I know it looks terrible. There was nothing malicious behind it.”
Here’s a clear look at the moment, though it would be nice to see the one or two seconds before.
— Steelers Depot 🦃 (@Steelersdepot) November 22, 2021
Heyward said he lost his balance trying to get back up and landed down on Herbert, making it look like he was hitting him. It doesn’t help that Heyward was clearly upset on the play, elbowing the Chargers’ receiver who came over at the end of the play after the Steelers had given up a first down conversion and ton of yardage. But Heyward maintains his innocence.
“I don’t think I was trying to punch him, but I know it looks more worse than it is in slow motion. But I’m sorry if I did anything to offend anybody. You know, I wish I had said more to Justin after it, but there was nothing behind it.”
After the game, the refs were asked why Heyward was not ejected.
Pool report on why Cam Heyward wasn't ejected for what looked like a punch of Justin Herbert: pic.twitter.com/hmqMbul1k2
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) November 22, 2021
My view obviously comes from a potentially biased perspective but watching the play back, it looks like Heyward sincerely lost his balance. This is a man who had just run 40+ yards downfield and was completely gassed, making it easy to stumble while trying to get up off the pile. Heyward also has never been known as a dirty player. But the optics of it certainly do not look good and it’s possible Heyward receives a fine later this week. The league cares only about actions, not intent, so Heyward’s words here will likely fall flat from the NFL’s perspective.
To make matters worse, Heyward’s effort was all for naught. The Chargers scored the very next play.