NEW ORLEANS — Twice in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 31-28 loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints, cornerback Joe Haden thought he had made key fourth-down stops, once in the first quarter and once in the fourth.
Each time, a penalty flag was thrown, Haden was called for pass interference and the Saints benefited by scoring touchdowns. Michael Thomas’ 2-yard score with 1 minute, 25 seconds left helped the Saints overcome a 28-24 deficit.
The penalties left Haden angry and confused after the Steelers lost the game in the waning moments after leading for much of the fourth quarter.
“It (stinks), I’m (ticked), but next time I’ll try to make those plays without getting the call,” Haden said.
A third pass-interference call that went against the Steelers — safety Morgan Burnett was the guilty party — set up a third Saints touchdown.
“You can’t touch these guys,” Haden said. “They can push off, and they didn’t say anything about Michael pushing me off in the end zone on the (touchdown). It’s tough being a defensive back, but we have to live … that’s what we do. It (stinks) when those plays are so big and weighed differently and can make or break you.”
Saints cornerback Eli Apple also was flagged twice for pass interference, and the Steelers scored 10 points after these penalties.
“I’m not here to evaluate the officiating,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I’ll let those guys evaluate themselves in the appropriate manner. … The officiating did not determine the outcome of the game. We find comfort in that. The quality of our play and execution determined the outcome of the game, not any of that.”
On the first pass-interference call against Haden, he appeared to barely touch Alvin Kamara on a pass that sailed over both players’ heads in the end zone. On the second, Haden said he had tight coverage on Thomas.
“I tried to get my hands on him so we could physically compete within five yards,” Haden said. “I thought I made a play on him. We didn’t get those calls. It’s very unfortunate. I felt like those were bad calls.”
The second pass-interference call against Haden came on fourth-and-2 with 1:56 left. It gave the Saints a first down at the Steelers 22.
The Steelers thought the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, which would have negated any pass-interference penalty on contact made in the secondary.
“I didn’t have the courtesy of a replay,” Tomlin said. “We were asking for clarity on it, but you know that things start moving fast in those moments.”
Safety Sean Davis, whose interception stopped the Saints’ first drive, also was confused by the pass-interference call on the pass to Thomas.
“The play looked clean to me,” he said. “I don’t know what they were looking at. We got them calls the whole game.”