I don't know what we just witnessed there. It seemed like the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to cruise to victory in Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday Night Football. After the Raiders bounced out to a 7-0 lead, Kenny Pickett and the Steelers scored 23 unanswered points.
Pittsburgh was comfortably in control over the Raiders for most of the game. But late in the fourth quarter, a wild turn of events caused by some horrendous officiating nearly gave Las Vegas a chance to turn the game around.
It began with a bogus roughing the passer call against Minkah Fitzpatrick. On 2nd and 10 with just 7:18 remaining in the fourth quarter, the All-Pro safety came on a delayed blitz up the middle and dropped quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a six-yard loss. However, flags flew and the road Steelers fans at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas moaned with how ticky-tack this roughing call was.
In real-time, the hit Fitzpatrick delivered certainly didn't look egregious. Garoppolo started to duck when he saw Minkah coming, but it still looked like a clean tackle. This would have put the Raiders in a 3rd and 16 scenario down 23-7 with 6:55 remaining in the game. Instead, the officials gift-wrapped Las Vegas a new set of downs with a 15-yard penalty -- making it first and goal from the 9-yard line.
The Raiders went on to score a touchdown here, and with a successful two-point conversion attempt, the score was 23-15 with just 5:41 remaining in the game. But this wasn't the only questionable call that aided the home team.
After the Steelers played it conservatively on offense and were forced to punt following a three-and-out, the Raiders got the ball back. After picking up just one first down, Las Vegas had a 4th and 5 from the 29-yard line, and they opted for a field goal. However, another flag flew in late, and Steelers defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal was called for leveraging.
This was another questionable call that hasn't been very consistent between officiating crews, but the timing was not ideal. This penalty was enough to give the Raiders a new set of downs. Fortunately, Pittsburgh was still able to hold them to a field goal, but with Las Vegas just 8 yards away from the endzone when their drive ended, this call could have allowed them a second chance to punch it in for a score and two-point conversion to knot the game at 23-23.
Eventually, the Steelers milked most of the remaining clock when they got the ball back, and after punting the Raiders with just 12 seconds remaining, Levi Wallace picked off a pass (his second of the night) to seal the game.
Officiating made the Steelers win closer than it should have been
The Pittsburgh Steelers would hang on to win this road contest 23-15, but some questionable fourth-quarter officiating made this game much closer than it should have been. At one point, it really looked like the Steelers might stroll to victory, but fans were frustrated by some bad calls late in the game.
I feel bad for Minkah Fitzpatrick. After some in the NFL media criticized him and called him dirty for his low hit on Browns RB Nick Chubb last week that resulted in a serious knee injury, Fitzpatrick avoided going low on Garoppolo in Week 3 but was essentially punished by the referees for doing so.
What is a good hit anymore in today's NFL? There is too much room for subjective judgment calls. A great (and clean) play like what Minkah made shouldn't come with a penalty that changes the momentum of the game. The Pittsburgh Steelers are fortunate that poor officiating didn't cost them a win.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.