PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden spoke out on the difficulty of playing defense in the NFL after two questionable pass interference calls against him negated fourth-down stops in the New Orleans Saints‘ 31-28 win.
New Orleans finished each of those drives with touchdowns.
“It is what it is, man. It’s an offensive game. You can’t touch these guys,” Haden said. “At the same time, with the push-off, they didn’t say anything about Michael pushing me off in the end zone for the last play. It’s just tough being a defensive back, but we gotta [play] — that’s what we do.
“It just sucks sometimes when those games, those plays are just so big and they’re weighed differently. And it can just make or break momentum and everything. So it’s very, very unfortunate and it sucks. I’m pissed. But next time I’ll try to make sure I can make those plays without getting the call.”
With 3:10 left in the first quarter, Haden was called for pushing running back Alvin Kamara in the end zone on a high throw that neither player had a chance to catch. Replays showed Haden gently grazed Kamara’s back as he attempted to reach the ball, thus warranting a no-call. Instead of a loss of downs after a fourth-and-2 stop, the Saints got the ball at the 1-yard line and scored on a Mark Ingram touchdown run.
At the two-minute warning, officials flagged Haden for allegedly grabbing receiver Michael Thomas over the middle. Instead of a loss of downs on another fourth-and-2 stop, the Saints got the ball at the 22-yard line and scored on a 2-yard Thomas catch with 1:28 left.
Safety Sean Davis said the calls were “crazy” and changed momentum, though most Steelers clarified that officiating doesn’t win or lose games.
Haden said he’ll talk with coach Mike Tomlin about what he can do better next time but can’t hide disappointment.
“I’m very frustrated, very pissed,” Haden said. “This means a lot to me. I come out here, bust my tail, try to play good defense. It’s just tough, the way the game’s changing.”
The Steelers also had a controversial moment with 4:11 left as Tomlin called a fake punt that the Saints stopped just short of the first-down mark. On fourth-and-6 from Pittsburgh’s 42-yard line, fullback Roosevelt Nix took the snap and ran through the middle of the Saints’ defense for a 4-yard gain. New Orleans seemed to sniff out the play quickly.
But the Steelers got the ball back with 1:25 left, which Tomlin said was part of his plan. They drove downfield before JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s fumble with 41 seconds left.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Tomlin said. “I wanted to ensure that we had the opportunity to win the game. First of all, I liked the play … I thought where the game was and the time of which was left in the game, I thought that if we did not stop them, that we would have the opportunity you have the ball back. We did. Obviously, unsuccessful.”