Ben Roethlisberger has taken his fair share of hits this season, but perhaps none as egregious as the shot he sustained on December 19.
In the second quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers game against the Tennessee Titans, Roethlisberger got blown up by defensive tackle Naquan Jones on a hand-off to running back Najee Harris.
Jones went virtually unblocked by guard Trai Turner as he knocked Roethlisberger down to the ground well after the ball was already out of his hands.
“Ben was walloped!” observed play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz during the broadcast. “This crowd [at Heinz Field] saw it, and they are voicing how they feel about that right now.”
As color analyst and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo watched the slow-motion replay, he added, “This [hit] is really late.”
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The referees paid no mind while Roethlisberger lay on the ground and instead hustled over to the play wrapping up at the line of scrimmage.
Roethlisberger slowly stood up — without the help of his offensive linemen, as usual — shaking his head and holding his throat.
Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve
Gene Steratore, an NFL official from 2003 to 2018, tweeted after the play in question that there should’ve been a flag thrown for unnecessary roughness. Steratore now works as a rules analyst for CBS Sports.
“For RPO plays: the longer the QB holds the ball, the closer they are to getting legally hit,” Steratore tweeted. “In #TENvsPIT, the ball was clearly out of Ben’s hands, and the defender took 2 steps before driving him to the ground. IMO this should’ve been flagged for Unnecessary Roughness.”
An unnecessary roughness call carries a penalty of 15 yards and an automatic first down. The rule further states that “the player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be flagrant.”
Instead, the drive became 2nd-and-15 after Harris was tackled for no gain. The drive stalled after two plays, and the Steelers had to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Chris Boswell.
Roethlisberger’s Postgame Response
Since the hit occurred on a run and not on a pass play, it doesn’t count as a hit on the quarterback. According to Pro Football Reference, Roethlisberger wasn’t hit at all in the Titans game — but he was sacked three times, once by former Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree.
After the game, Roethlisberger was asked about the explanation the referees gave. Here’s what Roethlisberger had to say in his postgame press conference:
“I didn’t try and carry out a fake. I just stood there. [Naquan Jones] hit me square in my chest. It was not like I was trying to act like I had the ball or anything. I was just standing there. And the ref told me once the ball is handed off he looks to the front to the play side. And I asked him about what about the other ref that we have standing back there. He said he was looking at the backside. And he said he’ll have to look at it. And that was the explanation I got.”
Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to guy is having quite a season. Heading into the game with Tennessee, Diontae Johnson needed just 10 yards to exceed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Johnson got it on the first play of the Steelers opening drive when Roethlisberger connected with him for 16 yards.
The Titans defense kept a lid on Johnson (along with the rest of the offense) for the remainder of the game. After the 16-yard reception, Johnson only had four more catches for 22 yards.
Per Pro Football Reference, Johnson’s 1,028 receiving yards are good for 10th in the NFL.