Mike Tomlin didn’t have an explanation for why wide receiver Diontae Johnson didn’t react or provide any effort after Jaylen Warren’s fumble in the first quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 16-10 victory Sunday at Cincinnati.
Tomlin didn’t try to offer one, either, at his weekly news conference Tuesday, saying Johnson will have to account for his actions — or lack thereof — on the play that has been dissected ad nauseam since it happened two days earlier.
“I’ll give him an opportunity to address that with you guys,” Tomlin said. “I’ll give him an opportunity to address that with his teammates. I’m not going to add any additional color.”
Apparently frustrated by a pass that was ruled an incompletion — instead of a touchdown catch in the back of the end zone — on the previous play, Johnson stood flat footed and did not attempt to block Bengals cornerback DJ Turner.
Johnson never moved when Warren fumbled as he was going to the ground. Or when the ball bounced in Johnson’s direction. He never moved as Turner picked up the ball and began running in the other direction. Johnson then walked toward the sideline.
The lack of effort drew harsh criticism from fans on social media and NFL analysts.
All Tomlin would say about Johnson’s inaction was, “Diontae can’t let the emotions of the previous down affect the next down.”
Asked after the game about the play, which did not impact the score, Johnson said he didn’t see the fumble and that “I was just doing my job blocking or whatever it is.”
Johnson will get a chance to address his teammates and reporters Wednesday.
Tomlin gave his players the day off Monday, and Tuesday is a regularly scheduled day off for the team. The players will conduct film review Wednesday morning before beginning preparations for their game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Plays like that are best described and outlined by those involved and less so by guys like me,” Tomlin said. “I keep my attention on challenging things and what awaits us this week. It’s something he needs to answer for, and his teammates will give him an opportunity to do that. I won’t provide any additional color until he does.”
Johnson possibly was frustrated with having a touchdown taken away on the previous play. He has scored just once in a 25-game span but appeared to have gotten a touchdown when he caught a 15-yard pass from Kenny Pickett in the back of the end zone.
Johnson got both feet down in play, but he lost possession of the ball as he tumbled out of the end zone. The back judge signaled that the pass was incomplete, and Tomlin did not throw the red challenge flag before the next snap.
Tomlin said the lack of a replay on the Paycor Stadium scoreboard was one reason he didn’t challenge the call. He also didn’t get a signal from his assistants watching the TV replays in the coaching box that Johnson maintained possession long enough for it to be a touchdown.
“You don’t always get an opportunity to get a timely look at things, particularly as it pertains to scoring plays,” he said. “Often, I proceed that if they call it a non-scoring play, then I believe they are not speculating in any away.”
Touchdowns are automatically reviewed by replay officials. Plays in the end zone that are not called touchdowns on the field must be challenged to be overturned. Tomlin also said he didn’t want to risk using his first timeout or losing one of his challenges that early in the game. Less than five minutes remained in the first quarter.
“That component, that mechanism, if there was any question in their judgment, they probably would have called it a scoring play and allow the automatic review to happen. … In road stadiums, if I don’t get a look, I ride with that premise because I know how games are officiated.”