The Los Angeles Chargers prevailed in a tough and emotional 41-37 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, and the game included a bizarre sequence in which Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward appeared to punch a defenseless Justin Herbert in the stomach and somehow avoided an ejection.
It happened in the middle of the fourth quarter after Herbert had taken the ball and run up the field. Heyward tackled him from behind, and at the end of the play Herbert was curled up on the turf protecting the ball and Heyward was on top of him. A Chargers player tried to get Heyward away from Herbert once the play was over, but Heyward wasn't having it. He pushed the guy away, flipped Herbert over, and appeared to punch him in the stomach.
Cameron Heyward is a dirty player pic.twitter.com/X9WvjV0D0o
— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) November 22, 2021
It was more than a little strange. Herbert wasn't writhing in pain, which was good, but the broadcast didn't really mention the incident. Heyward was flagged for unnecessary roughness and the Steelers were penalized 15 yards, but considering that Heyward avoided an ejection, it was a strangely muted response to a player appearing to punch the opposing QB in the stomach.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Heyward will be evaluated for a fine, but not for a suspension.
#Steelers DL Cam Heyward, who appeared to punch #Chargers QB Justin Herbert late in last night’s game, will have his actions reviewed for a fine, not suspension, source said. Heyward told reporters punching was not his intent and it looked worse than it was.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 22, 2021
Cam Heyward: 'Nothing behind' punch
Heyward was of course asked about the punch after the game. He explained that it was a misunderstanding that looked worse on TV than it did in person. Heyward also said that he wished he'd said more to Herbert after the game, presumably to make sure there were no hard feelings.
Steelers DT Cameron Heyward says the play on which he appeared to punch Justin Herbert on the ground was just a misunderstanding that looked weird on TV: pic.twitter.com/Y0EGoDsrRf
— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) November 22, 2021
No hard feelings from Justin Herbert
Heyward wanted to say more to Herbert after the game, but it doesn't look like he needed to. Herbert was on the receiving end of the punch, but he didn't automatically assume it was intentional or malicious. After the game, he told the media that he doesn't have any bad feelings toward Heyward, and what happens on the field stays there.
Justin Herbert on Cam Heyward’s punches: "I haven’t really seen it. He’s a tough player. Football is an emotional game. Whatever happened, happened in the game. We’ll shake hands and say, ‘Good game,’ after the game.” #Chargers
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) November 22, 2021
Is the NFL fun when players beef with each other? Sure. But it's also nice when they can easily move past a rough incident and remember that football can be a very physical and emotional game.