Asked and Answered: Jan. 12

Posted Jan 12, 2016

Another installment of Bob Labriola answering your questions about the Steelers and the NFL.

Let’s get to it:

So pumped up after that bizarre playoff win. Here is my question: What does it take to eject a player from an NFL game? Yes, Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones came to mind when I thought of this question.

Like so many other things regarding the NFL rulebook, I don’t know that there’s a definitive answer for that. There was some belief within the Steelers organization that the officials for the Wild Card game last Saturday were going to be much more amenable to ejecting players for both between-the-whistles misconduct as well as the post-play garbage that was too much a part of the regular season game at Paul Brown Stadium. Currently, there is some disagreement within the NFL about whether the best method of handling some of this stuff is to penalize it and then eject players during the game, or whether it’s better to penalize it and then come back with fines and suspensions in the immediate aftermath. Maybe some consensus is reached over the course of the upcoming offseason, but until then I have no answers for you.

The Steelers defense got a flag for delay of game. I've seen it before in hurry-up situations for the opposing offense, but this wasn't the case. Can you explain it?

I’m going to give it a shot, and I believe the situation to which you refer involved James Harrison. When the clock is running, and when the defense crosses into the neutral zone and induces movement along the offensive line, the penalty called can be referred to as delay of game on the defense.

Are you aware of any precedence for the NFL to suspend a player from playing a specific team the following season?

No. Suspensions are levied based on the number of games, as opposed to removing a player from a game against a specific opponent. So cynical am I that when it was announced on Monday night the NFL had suspended Vontaze Burfict for the first three games of the 2016 NFL season, my immediate thought was that the league would schedule Bengals vs. Steelers for Week 4. And don’t be surprised if it’s a primetime game, too. Anything for TV ratings.

Just a couple of quick questions about rules enforcement in the wake of the Wild Card Round game in Cincinnati: If the touchdown by William Gay was taken off the board, why was the penalty of excessive celebration not taken off with it? Especially since one was the direct result of the other. And after the Vontaze Burfict interception, he took the ball, and with several teammates, ran off the field and up the tunnel. How was that not a penalty for excessive celebration, delay of game, celebration involving teammates, something?

As to your first question, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty – which is what excessive celebration is – takes precedence over whatever else might have happened or been nullified during or after the play in question. So even though William Gay didn’t score a touchdown officially, there still could be a penalty for excessive celebration. Why Burfict and his entourage also weren’t penalized for excessive celebration is a complete mystery for me. I have nothing for you on that one. Should’ve been a flag.

In my opinion, Ryan Shazier was the defensive MVP of the game against the Bengals. Some bitter Cincinnati fans are saying his hit on Giovani Bernard was as bad as Vontaze Burfict's hit on Antonio Brown, but during the broadcast, it was made clear that Shazier's hit was legal, and I would like to think it happened without the intent to injure, as Burfict's was. My question is, since it was a legal hit and Shazier recovered the football, was it not a major officiating blunder that the play was whistled dead? In my mind, had his fumble return for a touchdown counted, the Steelers would have had a more comfortable lead and perhaps all the insanity that took place later would not have happened.

Because I was at the game, I was not aware of what was said on CBS’ broadcast of the game, so I cannot comment on that. After watching the replay many, many times, the way I saw the play was that Giovani Bernard was not a defenseless player, because he had possession of the ball and had become a runner. To me, the issue was whether Ryan Shazier led with the crown of his helmet, but since no penalty flag was thrown at the time the issue will be adjudicated at the league office, which means a fine would result if it’s determined Shazier did lead with the crown of his helmet.

But back to the game. Since no penalty flag was thrown, I saw the play as a fumble, and a recovery. There also was no down-by-contact, and so the return should have been permitted. But because of the way the play originally was whistled dead, the officials weren’t going to reverse themselves on a challenge and award a touchdown to the visiting team, even though that would’ve been the correct call. That’s just my opinion. In instances where the on-field officials end up relying on replay, there also is the possibility that someone in “command central” in New York is “helping” with the call and the interpretation of same. I have absolutely no evidence or knowledge of this, but I believe the decision was made to “split the baby,” so to speak, which in this case involved giving the ball to the Steelers – as it should have been – but not awarding the touchdown that should have followed, because that would have given the Steelers a 22-0 lead at the end of the third quarter and effectively ended the game. Again in my opinion, NFL officials will legislate the game to keep the score close, and that’s how this ruling came about.

No question but just wanted to say that VERY excited about facing Denver this weekend and am so proud that this team faced the hardest schedule in the league, battled some serious injuries the whole season, but the players and coaches never quit and got the job done. Great character, and I just wanted to say thanks.

Consider it done.

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