CINCINNATI — The Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike Tomlin did enough to leave town with a victory, beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 16-10 on Sunday. But they probably should have had something that has escaped the team all season — an easy win.
The Steelers out-gained the Bengals, 421-222, and the clubs were even in turnovers, but the Steelers’ sudden inefficiency in the red zone was an issue for them all day.
Or maybe it wasn’t.
The Steelers drove down to the Cincinnati 15-yard line on the second drive of the game, and appeared to take the lead when Kenny Pickett hit Diontae Johnson in the back of the end zone.
The play was initially ruled incomplete, but Johnson appeared to get three steps down in the end zone before Bengals cornerback DJ Turner II drove him out of the back of it and into the ground, jarring the ball loose.
Beautiful throw by Kenny Pickett..
Diontae Johnson HAS to catch that ball.pic.twitter.com/kqMBqNulLP
— JPAFootball (@jasrifootball) November 26, 2023
Former NFL referee and current CBS Sports NFL rules analyst Gene Steratore said that he believes Johnson’s catch should have been ruled a touchdown, and that it would have been overturned on replay review.
“With the way these plays are determined via replay, it probably would’ve been overturned to a touchdown,” Steratore wrote on X.
Johnson, as most receivers would, also asserted that he caught the ball and established control, but he said he needs to secure the ball and take that decision out of the referee’s hands.
“Well, you know, I had it,” he said. “It is what it is. I had two hands on the ball. I gotta hold onto the ball.”
One person could have initiated a replay review to take a look at — Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. But he said he didn’t have a clear view of the play live and never got a good look at a replay.
“(The officials) were definitive and I lost vision of it,” Tomlin said. “There were people between me and him. I couldn’t count steps. They didn’t give another look at it in the stadium and we didn’t get a quick enough look at it up top. Sometimes, that happens when you’re on the road. Some games, it’s on the road, sometimes it’s at home — it evens out in the big scheme of things.”
It’s somewhat incredible that the Steelers rely on the scoreboard for their best view of a potential replay review. The club has access to video feeds in its coaches booth, and those individuals are in radio contact with Tomlin, but as the team has focused on more of its top coaches being on the sideline, there may be a lack of experienced voices that Tomlin trusts on the other end of the radio.
Teryl Austin and Brian Flores have performed that role over the last few years. It’s unknown who is currently serving in that capacity since Flores’ departure last offseason.
The Steelers are fortunate that this time, it didn’t hurt them in terms of the outcome of the game. But it sure would have been nice to put a team away early for a change, and taking Johnson’s touchdown off the board certainly contributed to letting the Bengals hang around.