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The play which changed everything in the Steelers’ loss to the Chargers

Momentum is a tangible thing in the NFL, and the Steelers seemed to lose theirs early in the second half.

Los Angeles Chargers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When experiencing a defeat like the Pittsburgh Steelers suffered Sunday night at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers, it’s quite common to look back at what went wrong and analyze individual plays to death. In this case, there are so many of such plays which led to the loss, I was having flashbacks of Josh Scobee kicks from a Thursday night in 2015. Much like the infamous game against Baltimore, there are a plethora of plays in which, if they had gone Pittsburgh’s way, Steelers Nation would be celebrating a victory Monday.

Whether it be bad decisions, dumb luck, or complete ineptitude by the officials, there is one particular play that really seemed to turn the tide which led to the Steelers loss. The plays I am NOT referring to are:

  1. The missed PAT
  2. The obvious offsides on the Charger’s first TD
  3. The bad INT when the Steelers were in field-goal range
  4. The missed TD pass to Justin Hunter
  5. Sean Davis blowing up Joe Hayden‘s interception in the end zone, resulting in a TD catch
  6. Artie Burns’ only defensive snap, which resulted in 2 points
  7. The punt return TD and the missed penalty
  8. The offsides on the field goal miss
  9. The offsides on the field goal block
  10. The offsides on the field goal make
  11. The questionable ball movement by the long snapper on all the field goals

Wow. Those are a lot of plays. And it’s still not to play that I am referring to. The play in which the tide turned against the Steelers came 3:20 into the third quarter. On their opening drive of the second-half, the Steelers has just moved the ball across midfield. On 2nd & 4 from the Chargers 48 yard line, James Conner ripped off a 20-yard run down to the 28 yard line which was called back on a holding penalty against Ramon Foster.

Before getting into the legitimacy of the penalty, let’s look at how the call changed the course of the game. The Steelers went from a 1st & 10 just outside the red zone on the 28 yard line to having a 2nd & 14 at their own 42. So instead of already being in field-goal range to add another score, the Steelers gained 11 yards on the next two plays and were forced to punt.

It is important to note that the Steelers scored a touchdown with 17 seconds left in the first half to take it 23–7 advantage. By adding any kind of points to start the third quarter would have been devastating to the comeback efforts of the Chargers by stretching it to a three-score lead. Instead, the Chargers were able to drive the length of the field for a touchdown and two point conversion in order to make it a one-score game.

As for the legitimacy the penalty, you can judge for yourself :

For anyone watching the television broadcast, Foster was very upset about the call. Additionally, the commentators seemed to take Foster’s side. Even the Steeler antagonist Chris Collinsworth said, “We’ve seen a lot of offensive lineman get away with that over the course of the season, so I’m not sure why that was called.”

Al Michaels followed the statement by asking, “The course of the season or the course of history?”

It’s also quite uncommon for Ramon Foster to draw a holding penalty. With the exception of Matt Feiler who has yet to be flagged for anything in his 13 career games, Ramon Foster has the least number of holding penalties per game of any player on the Steelers offensive line. In 142 games, Foster has only been called for holding 11 times, including the most recent infraction, averaging one call every 12.9 games.

It is been said many times by NFL analysts that officials could throw a penalty for offensive holding on pretty much every play of every game. But for some reason, an official chose to throw the flag on this particular play while letting much more egregious infractions go uncalled throughout the game.

We’ll never know how the game would have played out if Conner’s run would have been allowed to stand. I do have the feeling this was one of the many instances which made Mike Tomlin choose to keep his mouth shut after the game in order to protect his wallet. It’s a shame the people on the field not wearing helmets are so much of the discussion after the game is over.