The wildest play in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s Steelers-Chargers game wasn’t any of the five touchdons scored in the period. It was LA quarterback Justin Herbert’s 36-yard scramble — and what happened to him after he was tackled.
A prone Herbert took a shot to the midsection from Steelers lineman Cameron Heyward, who had hustled downfield for the tackle. Heyward gave Herbert the business after scuffling with LA receiver Joshua Palmer, who had come in to protect his QB.
Heyward was called for unnecessary roughness, which moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 5. Austin Ekeler scored his fourth touchdown of the game on the next snap to give the Chargers a 34-20 lead. LA, though, would need to rally later in the quarter to win 41-37.
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Heyward claimed it was all an accident.
“I couldn’t get up and I fell back on him,” Heyward said, according to a postgame quote posted by Associated Press reporter Greg Beacham. “I know it looks terrible (but) there was nothing malicious about it.”
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The problem with Heyward’s explanation is that he clearly rolled Herbert onto his back and then delivered a punch/MMA strike. NFL officials felt the play didn’t justify an ejection.
“It just didn’t look like it rose to the level of a foul that would result in a disqualification,” NFL senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson explained in a pool report.
Herbert shrugged off the incident in his postgame press conference.
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“He’s a tough player. Football’s an emotional game. Whatever happened, happened. We’ll shake hands and say, ‘Good game’ after the game,” he said.
He could take that tack because he had just thrown a game-winning 53-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams. The TD represented the final scoring in a 41-point quarter, with 27 of them by Pittsburgh (three TDs, two field goals). The Steelers went up 37-34 on a Chris Boswell field goal with 3:24 to play. Herbert connected with Williams 1:15 later.
That play negated a big play by Heyward a couple minutes prior. He tipped a Herbert pass at the line of scrimmage that was intercepted by Cameron Sutton. Ben Roethlisberger connected with Pat Freiermuth on a 5-yard TD pass with 4:23 to play to tie the game 34-34.