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Najee Harris Sounds Off on Taunting Penalties, Calls Refs ‘Soft’



Steelers RB Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris, left, runs the ball as Los Angeles Rams cornerback Cobie Durant tries to tackle him during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

PITTSBURGH — One of the prominent hot topics of the week coming out of the Steelers’ win over the Rams is the two taunting penalties that George Pickens and Diontae Johnson each received. But it nearly was three taunting fouls, as running back Najee Harris got into the face of Rams linebacker Ernest Jones early in the game. Harris says that Mike Tomlin got a warning from the officials that they could have called him for taunting.

“I almost had one. They said I was talking to the guy,” Harris said. They should know the difference between guys competing and guys saying stuff to hurt someone. We’re just competing. It’s competitive. You might have a little chit-chat. We just have to find a balance where it’s too much and when it’s not.”

Najee Harris elaborated on that thought further, calling the officials soft. Of course, not everyone will agree with their interpretation of the rules, and he believes that officials need to know that there will be talking on the field naturally. Instead of calling those fouls, he would like officials to allow the guys to be competitors.

“Receivers and DBs, that’s just normal,” Harris said. “They are gonna do that every play. Sometimes, I think (officials) can be a little too soft. it’s football. People are gonna talk shit.”

Mike Tomlin went deeper into his thoughts from Sunday’s game on Tuesday. He specifically mentioned the tenor of the officiating crew. That crew did not let a lot go throughout the day. For any team, you have to figure out how they will call specific penalties, and the Steelers got to see they would not have much leeway when Najee Harris got into the face of a defender early in the game. Tomlin says their lack of failure to adjust is his biggest worry, not the fact that the taunting occurred.

“Oftentimes, it’s our job to feel the tenor of a crew,” Tomlin said. “We have to adjust our behavior accordingly. You know, we got into the game and saw the tenor of that crew and didn’t adjust our behavior accordingly. That’s our job as professionals. Am I worried about those issues being issues moving forward? No, I’m not. But it is a great opportunity to talk about learning the tenor of a (refereeing) crew; the worst thing we did was not adjust to that tenor. That’s on me.”

When the Steelers take the field on Sunday, they will focus on that. Pickens and Johnson both expressed regret for their penalties and made sure to pay attention to it moving forward. For now, it does not seem like something Tomlin and the staff are too worried about repeating.