Cowher asked about controversial plays
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
By BOB LABRIOLA
It wouldn't be an NFL season if there weren't controversial plays to debate, and the first weekend of games provided a couple of things that will serve the talk-show circuit well.
Taken in chronological order, the first took place in the Steelers-Dolphins game and involved Coach Nick Saban's attempt to challenge what had been ruled as an 87-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller; and the other was a hit by Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers on Chiefs quarterback Trent Green.
Coach Bill Cowher was asked his opinion of both during his weekly news conference at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.
Television replays appeared to show that Miller's foot had gone out of bounds around the 1-yard line, before the ball crossed the plane of the goal line, on the play that had given the Steelers a 21-17 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the game.
Saban waited and waited to decide whether to issue a challenge, because if it was denied the Dolphins would lose a precious timeout they might use in a comeback, and if it was successful and the touchdown was overturned, the Steelers still were going to get the ball at the Miami 1-yard line.
As the teams were lining up for the extra point, Saban, standing on the sideline near midfield, tossed the flag several feet onto the field in front of him. But none of officials saw the red flag before the ball was snapped for the extra point, and so Saban's challenge was denied.
On the day after the game, Saban took the blame for not making a quicker decision, and then for not being aggressive enough to make that decision known to the officials on the field.
"You can leave the box (on the sideline) and go down to the side judge or line judge, whoever is on your side of the field, and just stand there and throw it. He'll blow the whistle," said Cowher. "I've told them before that I'm looking at it (on replay). They just tell you to be careful you don't get too close to the snap count. That's really a non-issue.
"We've been told (to be aggressive) before. I've been down there standing right next to the official. We've always had the freedom to be able to do that since we've gone to this system. That has never been an issue in my mind."
The situation with Green falls under the general umbrella of protecting the quarterback. Scrambling out of the pocket during Sunday's Bengals-Chiefs game, Green ran for several yards before he went into a feet-first slide. Geathers was coming up hard on the play and also was somewhat engaged with a Chiefs player who was trying to block him.
The outcome of the play was brutal: Geathers hit Green shoulder-to-shoulder, and Green's head bounced off the turf. He was taken off the field on a stretcher with what was described later by team president Carl Peterson as "severe head trauma." No penalty was called on the play.
"But at this point, it's too early to try to make any prognosis on his return," Peterson said. "He was very alert and awake and wanted to talk about the football game. I knew he was hurting because those types of headaches are bigger, I think, than a migraine. That's the first thing, to get the headache taken care of.
"These things take time, and you have to observe all aspects of a head injury, and you're always concerned about that."
Geathers said he didn't think the hit was that bad.
"I know I didn't hit him head to head," he said, later adding, "we were just playing ball, flying around, and I know he understands that. He's played a long time."
There was a similar play in the Steelers game against the Dolphins, where Miami linebacker Zach Thomas hit Charlie Batch as he was going into a slide. No penalty weas called in that instance, either.
"It happens," said Cowher. "We're in a contact sport and those things happen. I talked to Ben (Roethlisberger) about it the other day. This isn't like baseball where you slide into second base and get back up. When you slide in football, you better slide and protect yourself.
"It's hard for a defender, who's going full speed, to come to a complete halt when a quarterback slides at the last minute. It's not always as easily avoidable as you may think. It's just one of those circumstances with Geathers, and I think he was getting blocked at the time. Each one is subjective. I didn't think there was anything ill-intended with what the defender did. It's just one of those things that happen in our game."