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Steratore: Roughing The Passer Penalty On Heyward ‘An Overreaction’

Early in the fourth quarter on a 2nd and 7 from the Steelers’ 11-yard line, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson dropped back and faced a familiar sight: a tidal wave of pass rushers in the black and gold bearing down on him.

Team captain and All-Pro defensive lineman Cameron Heyward got his hands on Watson first, wrapping him up and taking him to the ground with force, ensuring that the slippery quarterback couldn’t get away again in a game in which he proved hard to bring down in the pocket.

The sack by Heyward seemed to be rather drive-altering, as it would have set up a 3rd and 15 from the Steelers’ 19 with Pittsburgh in front, 20-7. Instead, referee Clete Blakeman, staring directly at the play, threw a penalty flag on Heyward at the conclusion of the sack for roughing the passer, giving the Browns a first down, ultimately extending the scoring drive.

While the league has made it a great focus to protect the quarterback and avoid injuries to the faces of the league, there was nothing egregious about Heyward’s takedown of Watson. Yet, the flag came out in shocking fashion, leading to a touchdown for the Browns two plays later, cutting the game to a 20-14 lead for the Steelers.

It was an egregious call upon initial viewing. A few days removed, it remains one of the worst calls of the season. Roughing the passer for…playing football.

Former NFL referee and current CBS NFL rules analyst Gene Steratore, a Pittsburgh native, appeared on 102.5 WDVE Radio Tuesday morning for his weekly “Zebra Talk” segment, Steratore said it was an overreaction from Blakeman to make the call, and that it was ruled incorrectly.

“This wasn’t a ‘lift the player up, Turkey Jones, lift-and-turn, and try to do damage’ with a slam after it,” Steratore said, according to audio via 102.5 WDVE and iHeartRadio.com. “It was Cam getting (Watson’s) feet off the ground — because he is elusive, and truthfully rather strong with his legs and can get out of something like that. … I felt like he turned him sideways. This wasn’t a lift and try to put a stake in the ground or plant him that way. It was an overreaction. Those plays happen in split seconds, and unfortunately, in this situation, it was ruled incorrectly.”

 

While that sounds great and all, those words after the fact from Steratore, telling everyone what they already knew, don’t exactly change the impact of the call. Too often in the game today, these roughing the passer penalties are changing outcomes.

Though the call against Heyward ultimately didn’t change the outcome of the Week 18 matchup at Acrisure Stadium for the black and gold, it remains a rather terrible call overall, one that will likely lighten Heyward’s wallet this week, too.

The call against Heyward might have been a makeup call for the officials missing the face mask penalty on Larry Ogunjobi on the previous drive, one in which the Browns went three-and-out. While officials will never admit to it, those types of makeup calls happen often throughout games.

It stings that it came against Heyward, who did nothing wrong on the play and had a sack wiped out in the process.

Based on the number of awful roughing the passer calls that have occurred this season, hopefully the NFL’s Competition Committee, of which head coach Mike Tomlin is a part of, can take a look at the penalty and the wording and make some alterations, because this is getting out of hand.

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