By: Will Burchfield
Darius Slay sighed in exasperation when asked about getting called for pass interference on a key third-down play with 1:45 remaining in the Lions’ 20-15 loss to the Steelers on Sunday night.
The penalty all but sealed the game.
On third-and-six from the Steelers’ 12-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger threw to Eli Rogers, who was running a drag route over the middle. Slay momentarily grabbed hold of Rogers by the wrist, which allowed Slay to close the gap, and then the two players got tangled up in the legs.
They both fell to the turf as the ball arrived, at which point the flag was thrown.
“It was tough, but I thought it was uncatchable for sure because the dude’s only 5’8, 5’7. He threw that thing pretty high,” said Slay.
The ball indeed sailed well over Rogers’ head, but this was partly because Slay held him at the beginning of his route. It was also because Rogers, who’s listed at 5’10, was falling down.
Then again, the flag didn’t arrive until Rogers hit the deck, which was because of incidental contact.
“I mean, I got a grab of him but it’s football. At the top of the route we just tripped and fell. I kind of held him at the beginning, so if he didn’t call it at the beginning he’s calling it at the end of the route, but we both just tripped and fell,” said Slay. “Other than that, that’s on me. I have to do way better technique so that I won’t be in that position no more.”
The flag kept the Steelers’ offense on the field, and they iced the game three plays later on a third-down shovel pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Slay otherwise had a terrific night, especially against superstar Antonio Brown. Brown finished with five catches for 70 yards, but had just one catch for nine yards on four targets versus Slay.
Asked if he was proud of the job he did against Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver by a wide margin, Slay said, “I guess I didn’t do it good enough because we didn’t win. That’s how I see it. I’d say I did a good job if we won, but nah, we lost, so I have to do a better job.”
Still, Slay relished the matchup. He and Brown have the same agent, and they train together in the offseason. The two exchanged jerseys after the game.
“It was fun. That’s my guy, man, that’s my dude. We always work out together, we chill. I come to Miami, (Brown’s hometown). He’s a cool guy, man. We knew we were going to go out there and compete, and that’s what we did. Just tried to put up a good show on a Sunday night,” said Slay.
Brown appeared to catch a touchdown versus Slay early in the third quarter, but he was flagged for offensive pass interference when he shoved the cornerback in the chest to gain separation in the end zone. Afterward, when Brown began celebrating, Slay tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out the flag.
“Yeah, because he knew he what he did! He knew he pushed me, man. I was sitting right there on it. I knew it was coming so I sat right down on it. He gave me a little shove. But for him to be that little, now, he’s pretty doggone strong,” Slay said.
Though the Lions held Brown in check, they were burned by the rookie Smith-Schuster, who caught seven balls for 193 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. The score, which came on third-and-long and put Pittsburgh up 20-12, proved to be the difference in the game.
Smith-Schuster outran Quandre Diggs, Miles Killebrew and Glover Quin on the play.
“It was tough, man. Not something we wanted to do, not something we wanted to happen, but they just made a play. That can’t happen, though. We have to get that straightened,” Slay said.
The Lions have now lost three straight and stand at 3-4 through seven games. They are slowly losing ground on the first-place Vikings, even though they beat Minnesota on the road earlier this season.
“We have to start chopping this wood now and going to work. We have to do this because I don’t do this losing, and I know my teammates don’t,” said Slay. “We don’t accept it, so have to get it straight.”
He’s hopeful they can turn it around.
“If we keep fighting like this it’ll turn around for us, because there’s no way you can fight this hard and keep losing,” he said.
The Lions visit the Packers in Week 9 on Monday Night Football.