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Steelers Bewildered By Unusual, Costly Penalty



The referees discuss a penalty during Jaguars-Steelers on Oct. 29, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Of all the twists and turns and strange plays in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the one that might have been the most bizarre, even to close observers of the game of football, was a late first-half penalty on Steelers guard Isaac Seumalo.

Seumalo was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone on a Chris Boswell field goal attempt, causing the try to be pushed back five yards. Boswell missed the second chance, leaving the Steelers with a six-point deficit at the half.

“The right guard was lined up in the neutral zone,” referee Alan Eck said via pool report after the game. “His head was over the back edge of the ball so by rule that’s an offensive foul.”

A still frame of the video did indeed show that Seumalo’s head was over the ball and technically in the neutral zone. The angle provided also showed a Jacksonville player that was likely lined up in the neutral zone.

While a technical violation, such a penalty is exceedingly rare.

“I hadn’t seen that called in 17 years of standing on the sideline,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said.

Former NFL vice president of officiating and FOX rules analyst Mike Pereira said that there has been a rules emphasis with offensive linemen lining up in the neutral zone on short-yardage plays, but that he felt the emphasis was misapplied in this instance.

“Officials are told to call that if a lineman has his head in the neutral zone on the short yardage push plays, not on field goal attempts,” Pereira wrote on X.

Seumalo said that he didn’t feel like he lined up any differently than he ever does, and felt the penalty was in error.

“Obviously, the referees saw something different,” he said. “I’m sure in the next couple of days, we’ll get a nice little apology from them and that’ll warm my heart.”

Both Seumalo and Tomlin emphasized that they did not think the officiating decisions were why they lost to the Jaguars.

“That’s far, far from the reason that this game was not won,” Seumalo said. “That’s very, very minor to me.”