Minkah Fitzpatrick on Saturday blasted officials for the unnecessary roughness penalty he was given for hitting Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson during the Steelers’ “Thursday Night Football” loss.
The penalty occurred at the 7-minute mark of the third quarter. The Steelers safety hit Jefferson in the end zone after the latter came over the middle for a would-be touchdown. It was a bang-bang play, but the back judge who called the penalty on Fitzpatrick did not hesitate following the hit:
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Very poor officiating. Calls like this can change the outcomes of games. Football is a violent sport. People will get hit hard legally. Receivers running across the middle know what they signed up for. It’s a part of the game. https://t.co/07wFfOxLa1
— Minkah Fitzpatrick (@minkfitz_21) December 11, 2021
“Very poor officiating,” Fitzpatrick said. “Calls like this can change the outcomes of games. Football is a violent sport. People will get hit hard legally. Receivers running across the middle know what they signed up for. It’s a part of the game.”
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The hit was clearly violent at full speed, but there was nothing “wrong” with it. Slow motion of the tackle shows it was mostly a form tackle: Fitzpatrick’s helmet wasn’t near Jefferson’s head or neck area, and his right shoulder delivered most of the force.
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden echoed his teammate’s sentiments on the penalty shortly after it was called:
That said, Jefferson did fit within the parameters of what the NFL defines as a “defenseless player.” Per the NFL rulebook:
“A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner. If the player is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.”
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The hit ultimately was the right move for Fitzpatrick to make. The Vikings were unable to score a touchdown following the 5-yard penalty, which gave them a first-and-goal from the Steelers’ 4. Minnesota ultimately settled for a short field goal that made the score 29-0 instead of 32-0.
The Steelers mounted a comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, eventually falling 36-28 after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth from the Vikings’ 12 fell incomplete in the end zone. A touchdown would have given the Steelers a chance to tie with a 2-point conversion and send the game to overtime.