PITTSBURGH — In the aftermath of a 20-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, an obviously frustrated Diontae Johnson sounded off about the officiating crew that he believes cost the Pittsburgh Steelers the game.
The Steelers wide receiver was especially upset about an offside call on right guard Isaac Seumalo — who was whistled for lining up in the neutral zone — that negated a 55-yard Chris Boswell field goal. Boswell’s ensuing attempt after the penalty sailed wide right.
If the field goal stood, it would’ve cut the Jaguars’ lead to three going into the half.
“Refs were just killing us the whole game,” Johnson said. “The same refs we had at training camp. I didn’t like the refs today. At the end of the day, we can’t keep complaining about the refs. Like Coach [Mike Tomlin] say, we can’t worry about the refs, whatever. But everybody’s different.
“I didn’t like the refs today. They must’ve got paid good today or something, but they blew — that field goal, that hurt us coming into the half. We needed that.”
Johnson expressed frustration with the inconsistency of roughing the passer calls, including a non-call when Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett was knocked to the ground by defensive end Adam Gotsis with 17 seconds remaining in the first half.
“They was calling some stupid stuff,” Johnson said. “They should get fined for calling bad, making worse, terrible calls and stuff like that. That’s how pissed I am. They cost us the game. I don’t care what nobody say. They cost us the game.”
Johnson continued: “[The officials] wanted [the Jaguars] to win, bro. They was calling, everything was in their favor. They was getting every little call, but it is what it is. But we can’t, like I said, I’m moving on from it. I’m ready for Thursday.”
In a pool report, referee Alan Eck explained the call on Seumalo.
“The right guard was lined up in the neutral zone,” Eck said. “His head was over the back edge of the ball, so by rule, that’s an offensive offside foul. It’s a live ball foul, so we let the play go through and then we mark off the 5-yard penalty and replay fourth down.”
Though Tomlin didn’t outright criticize the officiating, he did note the rarity of the call against Seumalo.
“I didn’t get a lot of dialogue,” Tomlin said when asked whether there was an explanation given from the officials. “I hadn’t seen that called in 17 years of standing on sidelines. Offsides, lined up offsides on a guard, on a field goal protection. It didn’t matter what they said. I’ve never seen that.”
“They should get fined for calling bad, making worse, terrible calls and stuff like that. That’s how pissed I am. They cost us the game.”
Diontae Johnson, on the officials in Sunday’s game
NFL senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson responded to Tomlin’s assertion that he’d never seen the call in the pool report.
“Whether players are called for offsides, that’s the judgment that’s made on the field,” Anderson said.
Eck added: “It was a judgment call. It was obvious on the field, so we went ahead and called it.”
Before the field goal attempt, the officials had a series of calls that drew the ire of the Acrisure Stadium crowd. First Pickett fumbled as he ran out of bounds, and upon review, the officials gave Pickett the yardage, but enacted a 10-second run-off because he fumbled out of bounds. On the next play, Pickett was hit hard by Gotsis and the Steelers were charged a timeout for an injury occurring after the two-minute warning. The crowd booed loudly after each instance and reached a fever pitch with a “ref you suck” chant after the offside flag on the field goal attempt.
The Steelers (4-3) were called for six penalties for 52 yards, while the Jaguars were whistled for six penalties costing them 72 yards. Several times, the Steelers were flagged on crucial plays, including a defensive pass interference against James Pierre on the Jaguars’ first drive on third down.
While Johnson was critical, fellow Steeler Patrick Peterson was more restrained in his evaluation of the officiating crew.
“As players all we can do is control what we can control,” Peterson said. “The refs are given the job and a responsibility to call the game the way it’s supposed to be called. That’s the way they saw it. We can’t argue with them. It’s behind us now. We just have to find a way to overcome things like that and not let that be an issue.”
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who completed 15 of 27 attempts for 138 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in place of Pickett, downplayed the impact of the officiating.
“I’m not really too concerned with the officiating,” Trubisky said. “For me it’s like us just executing, guys being on the same page, and no matter if the call was for us or against us, we got to be on the same page of what the down and distance is, so we don’t have confusion and [miscommunication] on our part. I think that’s something we can get better at, just communicating where we’re at on the field, down and distance and getting the right guys in the huddle so we could operate faster.”