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Referee Tony Corrente Explains Game-Changing Taunting Call on Cassius Marsh

In Tuesday’s Hot Clicks: the unsatisfying explanation for the pivotal taunting call in Bears-Steelers, Nikola Jokić’s ridiculously dirty foul and more.

The taunting calls are not getting any better

It took until Week 9, but the NFL’s horrendous new taunting rule finally factored into the outcome of a game.

With 3:40 left in the fourth quarter and the Steelers leading the Bears 23–20 Monday night, Chicago linebacker Cassius Marsh sacked Ben Roethlisberger on third down. That should have forced Pittsburgh to punt and given Justin Fields an opportunity to lead a game-tying or -winning drive. Except, Marsh was called for taunting, giving the Steelers a new set of downs. They took advantage of their new lease on life to take another 50 seconds off the clock and kick a 52-yard field goal that stretched their lead to six. (The Bears scored a touchdown to take the lead on their next possession, but the Steelers answered with a field goal and won after Cairo Santos missed a 65-yard field goal by a mile as time expired.)

And what did Marsh do that was so egregious he needed to be assessed a game-changing penalty? He, uh, looked at the Pittsburgh sideline.

As Marsh turned back toward the Bears’ sideline, he ran by referee Tony Corrente, who stuck his hips out to make contact with Marsh while tossing his flag.

Corrente was made available to speak to a pool reporter, NBC Sports Chicago’s Adam Hoge, after the game to give his explanation for the call, but it wasn’t a very satisfying one.

“First of all, keep in mind that taunting is a point of emphasis this year,” Corrente said. “And with that said, I saw the player, after he made a big play, run toward the bench area of the Pittsburgh Steelers and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them.”

That’s a perfect encapsulation of why fans are so frustrated with the taunting crackdown. It doesn’t matter if the supposed targets of the taunt felt disrespected. If 69-year-old Tony Corrente doesn’t like the way a guy looked at his opponents, boom—15 yards.

It’s a pure judgment call, and, after reading what else Corrente had to tell Hoge, I’m not inclined to trust his judgment. Hoge asked him whether Marsh’s contact with him had anything to do with the flag being thrown. Corrente said not only that it wasn’t a factor, but that he wasn’t even aware Marsh had bumped into him.

“That, I'm not aware of at all, no,” Corrente said. “I didn't judge that as anything that I dealt with.”

Hoge asked a follow-up question pointing out that the video clearly shows Marsh clip Corrente before he threw the flag.

“That had nothing to do with it. It was the taunting aspect,” Corrente replied.

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Interestingly, the official transcript of Hoge’s interview does not include Corrente’s assertion that he wasn’t aware the 254-pound Marsh had run into him.

Marsh was adamant after the game that he wasn’t taunting his former Pittsburgh teammates, and he was also irked by what he called the “hip-check” by Corrente.

“The one thing I will say is that, on my way to the sideline, I got hip-checked by the ref,” he said. “It’s pretty clear. If I were to do that to the ref or even touch the ref, we’d get kicked out of the game, possibly suspended and fined. So, I just think that was incredibly inappropriate, and that’s all I’ll say about that.” 

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Email dan.gartland@si.com with any feedback or follow me on Twitter for approximately one half-decent baseball joke per week. Bookmark this page to see previous editions of Hot Clicks and find the newest edition every day. By popular request I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the music featured here. Visit our Extra Mustard page throughout each day for more offbeat sports stories.