NFL Reacts to Ref’s Decision Not to Eject Steelers’ Cam Heyward

Cam Heyward tackles Justin Herbert

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Cameron Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers during the fourth quarter at SoFi Stadium on November 21, 2021.

On Sunday night the Los Angeles Chargers survived a manic fourth-quarter comeback on the part of the Pittsburgh Steelers and escaped SoFi Stadium with a 41-37 victory. In the midst of the wild final 15 minutes, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert broke off a long run in Pittsburgh territory, but was ultimately chased down by Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward after a 36-yard gain.

When Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer tried to pull Heyward off Herbert, the Steelers defender pushed Palmer away and then appeared to press his right fist into the quarterback’s midsection, incurring a 15-yard penalty.

Cam Heyward Offers an Explanation

After the game, Heyward insisted there was no ill intent on his part.

“To be honest, I was running after the ball and I caught my hand under, so when I was trying to get up I couldn’t get up and I fell back on him,” he said. “I know it looks terrible, but there was nothing malicious behind it. I don’t think I was trying to punch him. I know it looks worse than it (was)….

“I’m sorry if I did anything to offend anybody,” added the Steelers captain. “I wish I had said more to Justin after, but there was nothing behind it.”

The NFL Sides With Heyward

It seems the NFL is inclined to agree that Heyward wasn’t being malicious.

Per Daniel Popper, Chargers beat writer for The Athletic, NFL senior VP of officiating Walt Anderson indicated that the league looked at the play in New York “and just did not feel that the action rose to the level of a disqualification and further action by us.”

Nor does it seem like Heyward is going to be suspended for his actions. According to Ian Rapoport, National Insider for NFL Network, Heyward “will have his actions reviewed for a fine, not suspension,” per Rapoport’s source.

That’s good news for a Steelers defense that can’t afford to lose Heyward for a game. Not only are fellow starters Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu out indefinitely (the latter with a season-ending fractured ankle), the Steelers have depth defensive linemen who are hobbled, including rookie fifth-round pick Isaiahh Loudermilk, who missed the Chargers game with a groin injury.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley Reacts

But the decision not to suspend Heyward won’t sit well with Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, who seems to think that the video evidence doesn’t lie.

On the other hand, Herbert didn’t label the “punch” a dirty act on the part of Heyward, or at least wanted to avoid getting drawn into any kind of controversy.

“Oh, no, I haven’t really seen it,” said Herbert about the replay, before adding, “He’s a tough player. Football is an emotional game. Whatever happened, happened. We’ll shake hands and say, ‘Good game,’ after the game,” Herbert concluded.

If the league does decide to punish Heyward with a fine, expect the news to come down sometime before next Sunday’s game at Cincinnati, most likely on Saturday November 27.

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