PITTSBURGH — The Steelers lost a tight game on Tuesday night, as Washington took the lead with just over 2 minutes to play on a field goal in what became a 23-17 victory over Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.
In a game that tight, each and every potential scoring play looms large in the final result, and that was certainly the case with the controversial play that allowed Washington to get on the board late in the first half.
Washington had driven into field goal range with plenty of time to take a couple additional shots down field before the end of the half, but was out of timeouts when Stephon Tuitt sacked Alex Smith on a third down and long.
There were 17 seconds left on the clock when Smith hit the turf and the referee’s whistle blew. Nine seconds went off the clock as Washington hurried its field goal unit out there, and they got roughly lined up, but there was a problem.
There was no football.
Smith had carried the ball off the field with him and the officials had not been able to get a new ball, ideally a kicking ball or K ball, into play in time. With the Washington team closing in on the line of scrimmage, the officiating crew realized their mistake, and stopped the clock.
Without the pressure of a running clock, Dustin Hopkins and the field-goal unit worked flawlessly for a 49-yard field goal. Would they have been able to make the kick as easily if the ball had been placed and the clock had been running? It’s hard to say.
Was Smith running off with the ball a bit of gamesmanship to get a stoppage from the veteran? He says he was just trying to help the officials get a kicking ball into the game more quickly.
“I knew we were going hurry up field goal,” Smith said. “I was pretty upset with myself for taking the sack at that point but I was running off to trying to get that ball off so they could get the K ball on. Because usually that happens very seamlessly with the change over, but from what I understand talking to the refs I think there was a little bit of a problem with the COVID, there’s less people on the sidelines, less ball boys and that wasn’t as fluid.
“So, it was not intentional, really. I was just trying to speed up the process of us getting off and getting the K ball on so they could go kick it.”
The three points got Washington started, and they eventually completed a 14-point comeback to beat the Steelers by six.