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T.J. Watt Fortunate To Escape Taunting Penalty During Key Moment Monday

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt had a monster game, it’s fair to say, which included four sacks and two batted passes, giving him 21.5 and six, respectively, on the season. But he was fortunate also not to claim his second taunting penalty of the season after his second pass defensed early on in the second half, and at a pretty key moment.

There were times during the game in which Watt faked the rush and just played the quarterback, trying to time the jump and bat the ball down. This isn’t out of the ordinary, but he did get Baker Mayfield twice. After the second time, however, he had a little something to say, telling the 6’1” quarterback that he has to throw it higher, and he pointed at him.

Like it or not, but with the way the taunting rule has been officiated for most of this season, that’s a 15-yard penalty. He already had a taunting penalty earlier this season, as I mentioned, and head coach Mike Tomlin benched Chase Claypool briefly for taking a dumb taunting penalty. Given the rules, what Watt did wasn’t too smart, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Tomlin told him as much when they got off the field.

The moment came with 6:08 to go on the third quarter. The Steelers had just gotten a field goal after stalling once again in the red zone. Cleveland was moving a bit, out to their 43, when Mayfield looked for Jarvis Landry on what would have likely been a first down, putting them across midfield.

Had Watt been flagged for taunting there, the Browns would have been at the Steelers’ 42-yard line. Instead, it was third and seven, and Mayfield was forced to scramble, Watt cleaning up at the line of scrimmage for his zero-yard sack that, at least as of now, still stands as a sack.

Of course, Ray-Ray McCloud muffed the following punt, and Corliss Waitman ended up having to punt from his own end zone off a high snap. The Browns started their next possession at the Steelers’ 48 anyway, and put up a touchdown four plays later, cutting the score to 13-7.

That all happened within five minutes of Watt’s batted pass. But that doesn’t change the fact that he was fortunate to escape without a flag there, and that’s because the rules are the way they are and had been enforced diligently for most of the season.

There are signs that the league has let up somewhat in being so strict in their enforcement, though it varies from crew to crew. McCloud, after all, got a dubious penalty called against him just last week.

I write this not to be a tattletale or to poopoo anything. The reality is that a penalty like that could happen at a key moment in a meaningful game that could really hurt, and this is the second time for Watt. He’s got to be smarter than that, as does everybody else. You don’t have to like the rule or the way it’s enforced to see that he did something he shouldn’t have.

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