Giants, Ravens, Broncos make questionable calls in Week 15
Not ushering Odell Beckham Jr. off the field for continually attacking Carolina cornerback Josh Norman wasn't the only questionable call in the NFL's wacky Week 15.
There was the confusing punt return for a touchdown that was negated in Pittsburgh because Denver's O-line trotted onto the field too soon and Baltimore's befuddling fake punt that Kansas City sniffed out and snuffed.
The blunders in Pittsburgh and Baltimore helped keep the AFC playoff race a jumble.
Here's a fascinating scenario: Even if the Broncos beat the Bengals next Monday night, there's a possibility Denver could go into the season finale with a shot at the No. 1 seed or missing the playoffs altogether.
''That's a crazy spectrum of possibilities,'' Denver tight end Owen Daniels said. ''But we're ready for the challenge.''
The Giants saw their playoff hopes take another hit, but not before OBJ took several swings at Norman in a heated matchup that quickly got out of control and only got worse.
The NFL on Monday suspended Beckham for next weekend's visit to Minnesota for his conduct against Carolina, when he drew three personal foul penalties. The league cited ''multiple violations of safety-related playing rules,'' including a diving helmet-to-helmet hit on Norman while blocking.
The league was left to weigh in on OBJ after neither referee Terry McAulay nor Giants coach Tom Coughlin removed the wide receiver from the game despite repeated penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Other than Beckham launching himself head-first for a violent helmet-to-helmet hit on Norman, he also delivered an open-handed smack to his facemask in the Giants' 38-35 loss to the unbeaten Panthers.
The two stars turned Cam Newton's five TD passes into a sideshow by tangling time and again, pushing, shoving and swinging at each other.
Norman called Beckham immature and said he should have been ejected.
''The guy ran 15 yards down the field - a dead-on collision,'' Norman said. ''The play was all the way on the left side. He came back and was hunting; and it was malicious in every way.''
He added that ''players like that don't deserve to be in the game.''
Beckham refused to discuss his run-ins with Norman, skirting the questions by saying the loss was unfortunate.
Coughlin said he seriously considered taking his star receiver out of the game to calm him down.
He never did, and neither did the referee.
In Pittsburgh, the Broncos blew a 17-point lead in a 34-27 loss to the Steelers in which they surrendered the game's final 24 points. Needing a big play to squelch Pittsburgh's mounting momentum, Jordan Norwood played possum on a short punt before scooping up the loose ball that Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas had touched but not picked up himself.
Norwood raced 71 yards for a TD that would have put the Broncos ahead 34-20 with a minute left in the third quarter.
It wasn't just Pittsburgh's players who thought the ball was dead, however.
So did Denver's.
The Broncos' offensive linemen trotted onto the field from the opposite sideline just as Norwood was making his way downfield past the stunned Steelers, many of whom were standing around or trotting off the field altogether.
The Broncos were whistled for an illegal substitution, negating the touchdown and bringing the ball all the way back to their 28. They went three-and-out and Pittsburgh completed its comeback.
''We had some of our offensive lineman, who thought the play was over, and started to jog. They were about 40 or 50 yards behind the ball,'' Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. ''They started to jog on the field ... They (the Steelers) also had guys running on the field, which is evident. Then I've been told that he was out of bounds anyway.''
Broncos safety David Bruton, who played 75 snaps after breaking his right fibula in a collision with cornerback Aqib Talib, bore the brunt of Steelers center Cody Wallace's flagrant foul hit to the helmet two plays after he hurt his leg.
Bruton said he hopes the league punishes Wallace as it did Beckham.
''Everybody's make a big deal of Odell's deal but nothing on him, and I'm pretty sure my head was down, the play was over, whistle was blown,'' Bruton said. ''... He left his feet trying to take me out. So, I just know if we have to play them again, it's not going to go well. We're definitely going to make sure that he's going to feel it.''
While the Steelers strengthened their hold on a wild-card berth with the win, the Broncos' lead in the AFC West was trimmed to a single game over the Chiefs, winners of eight straight and the beneficiary of Baltimore's big first-quarter gamble.
The injury-ravaged Ravens are out of the running and they unapologetically took a risk against a team in the thick of the playoff race.
With the Ravens trailing 14-7 in the first quarter, punter Sam Koch lined up near his own end zone and ran up the middle, gaining 7 yards when he needed 9. That gave KC the ball at the Baltimore 24 and three plays later, Jeremy Maclin caught a 13-yard touchdown pass.
''Anybody wants to criticize for going for it and being aggressive, have at it,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ''I'm not apologizing.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan and Dave Ginsburg contributed.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton