Ryan Switzer takes blame for Steelers' botched free kick that briefly let Browns back in game
Ryan Switzer acknowledged that the free-kick return isn’t a scenario that’s practiced all too often over the course of an NFL season.
“That’s true,” the Pittsburgh Steelers returner said, “but we have got to know (the rules). And that falls on me.”
Switzer and Roosevelt Nix combined on a special teams gaffe that was one of the lone blemishes in an otherwise impressive and clean 33-18 Steelers’ victory against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
The Steelers’ domination from the end of the first quarter until a meaningless Browns drive in garbage time was so complete (a 403-43 edge in yardage) that Cleveland rarely had a pulse.
Except, that is, immediately following a Steelers’ safety with 8 minutes, 7 seconds left in the third quarter. That gave the Steelers a 10-point lead and the ball – until they didn’t get that ball because they didn’t catch it.
The ensuing free kick from Britton Colquitt was intentionally booted high to land somewhat short, and that led to confusion between returners Switzer and Antonio Brown and one of the up men, Roosevelt Nix.
“I saw Rosie giving the fair-catch signal in front of me,” Switzer said. “I was running up to the ball, ‘AB’ was running up to the ball, and it was just a lot of miscommunication going on.”
The ball fell and rolled, with Switzer gesturing as if to stay away from it. Several Browns players pounced on it at the Steelers’ 24. But even they did not celebrate or signal possession or give any other indication any of them believed that it was a potentially game-changing swing in momentum or de facto turnover; they appeared to believing they were merely downing the ball.
Switzer, who did not return kickoffs until his rookie NFL season last year, was just as confused. A standout punt returner in college, he treated the free kick as a punt.
“I was thinking that punts were dead and kickoffs were alive, so honestly just one of those things that you wish didn’t happen and obviously you learn from it, which I certainly will,” he said. “Unfortunate but the guys had my back today and we came out with a win, which helped me a lot.”
The sequence of errors began with Nix calling for a fair catch – but electing not to catch it, likely because Switzer was calling for it.
After the game, Nix was in no mood to discuss the play.
“What you wanna know?” he said. “You’re asking questions. You sound like you know every (expletive) thing… We won. So you wanna write an article about one play?
“It don’t matter. We will figure it out when we watch the film about it.”
By rule, Nix’s fair-catch signal triggered a dead ball the instant that any Steelers player caught the kick. So, there was no reason for Switzer to not do so.
“I have little experience being back there after a safety,” Switzer said. “But regardless ,that doesn’t matter. I have got to know the rules, and I misinterpreted wrong and it cost us today. But the offensive line, (running back James Conner) especially and the defense, they all had my back today, and I am grateful for that.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.