Refs Should Have Penalized Browns on Steelers’ Fake FG: NFL Rules Analyst

Chris Boswell

Nick Cammett/Getty Images Chris Boswell of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass on a fake field goal during the first half of a game against the Cleveland Browns on October 31, 2021.

The turning point in Pittsburgh’s 15-10 win over the Cleveland Browns on October 31, 2021, came late in the second quarter, when the Steelers attempted a trick play that went disastrously wrong, leaving placekicker Chris Boswell concussed and unavailable for the remainder of the game. Lost in all the criticism of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is that the Browns may have deserved a 15-yard penalty on the play, which occurred on a 4th and 9 from Cleveland’s 10 yard line with 1:45 left in the half.

Never mind that CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Tony Romo didn’t comment on the apparent helmet-to-helmet hit that Browns defensive lineman Jordan Elliott put on Boswell. CBS Rules Analyst Gene Steratore subsequently took to Twitter to criticize the officials for failing to call a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty.

“Even though Chris Boswell is a kicker by position, on this fake field goal attempt, he is a passer. A defender cannot hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area. IMO this should have been a 15-yard penalty for roughing,” tweeted Steratore.

Had a penalty been called, the Steelers would have had a first-and-goal from the Browns’ five-yard line with 1:38 left in the half. Instead, the Browns took possession of the ball. They failed to score and the game ultimately went to halftime tied 3-3.

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Shawn Hochuli Explains the No-Call

After the game, official Shawn Hochuli indicated that Boswell was indeed “afforded the protections of a passer,” per Brooke Pryor, who covers the Steelers for ESPN. But according to Hochuli, the officiating team “did not see any contact that rose to the level of a foul. It wasn’t late, and as I said, we didn’t see contact that rose to the level of a foul.”

Steelers Milestones Realized

In the end, of course, Pittsburgh gutted out a five-point victory, raising its record to 4-3 and sending the Browns into last place in the AFC North with a 4-4 record. The key play came with a little more than 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, when rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth caught a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger that gave the Steelers the final points of the game.

With the victory, Roethlisberger raised his record in Cleveland to 12-2-1. According to, Roethlisberger now has more wins (24), passing yards (6,773) and passing touchdowns (42) against the Browns than any quarterback in league history. He also owns a 12-0 regular-season record against the Browns at Heinz Field, where the teams will meet again on January 3, 2022.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s victory raised Mike Tomlin’s career record to 149-81-1 (per Pro Football Reference), tying him with Hall of Famer Bill Cowher (Class of 2020) for the second-most wins in franchise history. The late Chuck Noll—also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Class of 1993) —remains first atop the team’s all-time wins list with 193 regular-season victories.

The Steelers return to action on Monday November 8 with a home game against the Chicago Bears, who sport a 3-5 record after losing to the San Francisco 49ers 33-22.

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