By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Through three quarters, this week's edition of Monday Night Football was a bit of a snoozer. Then things went haywire.
The Steelers eventually won, 29-27, after a 65-yard field goal attempt by Cairo Santos fell well short of the goalposts. But that final result didn't come without some controversy involving referee Tony Corrente.
In a game where 17 penalties were enforced, it was the one on Cassius Marsh that drew the most ire from viewers at home.
Marsh -- the former Seahawks, Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks (again), Cardinals, Jaguars, Colts, and Steelers linebacker who was elevated from the Bears' practice squad for this game -- came up with a sack of Ben Roehtlisberger late in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers leading 23-20. That third-down sack would've given Chicago the ball with plenty of time to score the game-tying field goal or go-ahead touchdown.
But they didn't get that opportunity, because Marsh taunted his former team.
While football fans were apoplectic about the call, and while it certainly wasn't the most egregious case, Marsh nevertheless taunted the team that released him at the end of training camp this year.
It was pretty obvious.
The broadcast crew couldn't believe it, but with taunting being a point of emphasis this season, a player walking toward the opponents' sideline and staring them down -- while standing amid the oncoming unit, no less -- is a simple call for the referee to make.
Nevertheless, Marsh played the victim after the game.
"I think that one was just bad timing. It's pretty clear to everybody who saw it that I wasn't taunting," Marsh said. "I've been doing the celebration my whole career. It's just sad to see stuff like that happen in a close game like that. It's just rough, man. I don't want to say too much, because y'all know how it is."
We all do know how it is, man.
Perhaps Marsh thought he had been penalized for his sick little spin kick, which was so sweet. (So freakin' sweet.) But no, he was flagged for walking toward the Steelers' sideline, staring them down in a somewhat who's-your-daddy-now type of stance, and ending up in the middle of the Pittsburgh punt team. Can't do that.
That's the same Marsh who reportedly "pitched a fit over playing time" in the middle of a big win for the Patriots, later claiming New England likes to "treat players like crap." So perhaps feeling victimized by his own actions is a recurring theme for the 29-year-old who is on his eighth NFL team.
While Marsh was wrong in that instance, he was certainly right when discussing this hip-check delivered by Corrente, when Corrente was in the midst of throwing the penalty flag for taunting:
Why ... why did an NFL referee intentionally stick his backside out in order to initiate contact with a player jogging off the field? That is the question.
Corrente was asked about that after the game, and we'll get you the full quote, but the nuts and bolts of his answer was this: Who? What? Me?!
Per pool reporter Adam Hoge, here's what Corrente said: "That I'm not aware of at all, no. I didn't judge that as anything that I dealt with."
Sir! There's video nowadays. People can see. Do we need to do an X's and O's breakdown of you twisting your entire body and then jutting your behind toward Marsh as he came by? Because I'll do it. We can do that. It'd be fun to do that. I'll do it right now if you want.
That bizarre denial was worse than the one from Marsh, who was -- as you might expect -- bothered by Corrente's body check.
"The one thing that I will say is, you know, on my way to the sideline, I got hip-checked by the ref. And it's pretty clear," Marsh said. "If I were to do that to a ref or even touch a ref, you know we'd get kicked out of the game and possibly suspended and fined. So I just think that was incredibly inappropriate. And that's all I'll say about that."
On that point, Marsh is unassailably correct.
That wasn't Corrente's only goof of the night, either, as one of his bad calls negated a Bears touchdown. That's a penalty call that deserves more attention than the taunting one. (Though, people aren't given free rein to complain about how soft the game has gotten or how great things used to be when a low block penalty is called.)
On the penalty in question, Bears O-lineman James Daniels was flagged for delivering a low block on T.J. Watt outside the tackle box. There were two problems with this call.
For one, the meeting between Daniels and Watt did not occur outside the tackle box.
Secondly: The meeting didn't even occur. Daniels missed his block.
But Corrente threw his flag, which took a Justin Fields touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham off the board and pushed Chicago back from the 1-yard line to the 16-yard line.
Despite the fact that no foul occurred, Corrente confidently threw that penalty flag. Much later, after the game ended, he remained just as sure of himself.
"The new rule this year is there should be no contact below the waist to any player outside of the tight end box. And this player initiated low contact to a player outside the tight end box," Corrente told the pool reporter. Even though it wasn't true.
For clarification, the pool reporter asked: Does contact need to actually happen for a penalty to have occurred?
"I have to judge that there was contact, and that's what I judged," Corrente said. "Yes, I did. From my perspective and in my position, yes."
Ladies and gentleman of the football world, if you want to complain about officials impacting the game too much or doing a poor job, I implore you to focus more on that call than the soft-but-appropriately-enforced taunting penalty on Cassius Marsh. One was a case of a player stomping toward the wrong sideline to send a message. The other was a case of a referee inventing contact in an imaginary location, a decision which disrupted and diminished the on-field athletic feats of the people playing the game.
All of that being said, for anyone who watched Monday night's game without a care in the world about which team won, it ended up being a mighty exciting final quarter. One supposes that's why the NFL probably doesn't care about any of the controversy involving the referee described herein. As long as the people are tuned in -- no matter the reason -- the NFL will be happy. And we'll keep showing up.
Hey, that's kind of a depressing ending, so let's look at the ref bump the player again:
What's that all about?!
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