How controversial false start call on punt felled the Steelers’ comeback attempt in loss vs. Patriots

The Patriots-Steelers “Thursday Night Football” contest proved a surprisingly enthralling affair; New England controlled the first half, getting out to a commanding 21-10 lead while Pittsburgh showcased enhanced vigor in the second in the comeback attempt.

New England left Acrisure Stadium with an upset win over Pittsburgh, knocking the Steelers out of the playoff picture for now. However, fans of Mike Tomlin’s crew can’t help but look back at a controversial false start call in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky found his footing in the last 30 minutes for Pittsburgh, taking advantage of a blocked punt by later scampering into the promised land. It was his first rushing score since ascending to the status of starting quarterback following Kenny Pickett’s ankle injury. A successful two-point conversion later, and the Steelers were down just three. 

He had the Steelers surging once more in the fourth quarter before an incompletion to Pat Freiermuth felled Pittsburgh’s drive. So, on fourth down, Mike Tomlin brought out the punt team.

MORE: Bailey Zappe’s monster first half leads Patriots to ‘TNF’ win over Steelers

The special teams unit came up clutch, seemingly drawing a neutral zone infraction from Patriots gunner Jahlani Tavani.

The referees tossed the jaundiced flag into the stratosphere. But when they picked it up and announced what had went down to the world, it proved a shock.

The Steelers were docked five yards for a false start. Their fourth-and-three turned into a fourth-and-eight, forcing Pittsburgh to boot the ball away.

It was a contentious call for armchair officials, many of whom believed that long snapper Christian Kuntz was wrongly adjudged to have flinched prior to the play.

Tomlin seemed to agree.

“I was given an explanation,” Tomlin told reporters postgame. “I don’t know if I agree with it, but I was given an explanation.”

So too did refereeing guru Terry McAulay. The longtime NFL official disagreed vehemently with the decision, saying the following on Amazon Prime’s broadcast:

So they’re saying [Kuntz] made a quick and abrupt movement prior to the snap. I don’t see this as quick and abrupt. Obviously, it’s subjective. This looks like the normal movement that we see from a long snapper. I think this should have been on the defense.

Kuntz offered his own assessment of the infraction, saying that he was believed to have flicked his head in an unusually rapid manner. He didn’t necessarily agree with the call, however.

One thing is for certain, however. Yet another prime time game was caught in the haze of a controversial whistle. It’s a tale as old as time.


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