Ryan Switzer has been something of a revelation as a return man for the Pittsburgh Steelers since arriving via trade before the start of the season, but he had fans out of their seats for all the wrong reasons on Sunday afternoon with a catastrophic error midway through the third quarter.
With Pittsburgh set up to receive a free kick after recording a safety, confusion between Switzer and Roosevelt Nix led to a huge mistake that saw the Browns recover the ball at the Steelers 25-yard line.
Steelers inexplicably fail to field a free kick and let the Browns have it. Browns could have run it in for a TD pic.twitter.com/yMyT6PqMeR— Vikings Blogger (@firstandskol) October 28, 2018
Seemingly believing the ball would be ruled dead if not returned by one of their teammates, both Nix and Switzer failed to make an attempt to dive on the live football when it had gone over the heads and the Browns pounced on it. While it would be incorrect to say Cleveland could have advanced the ball any further, they were still set up for a short drive that would end in a touchdown.
Speaking to Chris Adamski of TribLive after the game, Switzer confirmed he really did not know the rules that governed free kicks and actually thought it would still be Pittsburgh’s ball, just as it appeared he did.
“I was thinking that punts were dead and kickoffs were alive, so honestly just one of those things that you wish didn’t happen and obviously you learn from it, which I certainly will. Unfortunate, but the guys had my back today and we came out with a win, which helped me a lot.”
“I saw Rosie giving the fair-catch signal in front of me. I was running up to the ball, ‘AB’ was running up to the ball, and it was just a lot of miscommunication going on.”
“I have little experience being back there after a safety, but regardless ,that doesn’t matter. I have got to know the rules, and I misinterpreted wrong and it cost us today. But the offensive line, (running back James Conner) especially and the defense, they all had my back today, and I am grateful for that.”
If Switzer was open to acknowledging his mistake, Nix was far less willing to discuss it with reporters in light of another victory.
“What you wanna know? You’re asking questions. You sound like you know every (expletive) thing… We won. So you wanna write an article about one play? It don’t matter. We will figure it out when we watch the film about it.”
Doubling down later on fans who dared to call him out for the play via Twitter.
Lol y’all really doggin me and my guy @Switz .... it’s insane— 5⃣Roosevelt nix (@Dat_Dude_Nix) October 28, 2018
Against a more credible opponent, a mistake of this magnitude could have cost them the win and the Steelers can considered themselves lucky they were only playing the Browns. Clearly, many on the team needed a lesson about the rules surrounding free kicks and they all got one in the harshest way possible. If it prevents it from happening again, it will have been worth it.
As understandable as it is to criticize the players for not knowing the rules, it would be fair to say that special teams coach Danny Smith deserve his share of blame for the play too. It is his job to have his players prepared for every eventually. A free kick after a safety is hardly unheard of, even if it is only the second one the Steelers have returned all season.