CINCINNATI — It was a no-brainer call in the eyes of George Iloka. When the Bengals safety turned to look and see if the official closest to him was thinking the same thing, Iloka’s thoughts were confirmed.
Baltimore receiver Steve Smith Sr. was called for offensive pass interference when he knocked over Iloka while the two went into the air for a long pass from quarterback Joe Flacco with about 40 seconds left in the Bengals’ 27-24 win over the Ravens Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Smith Sr. caught the ball after pushing Iloka to the ground and then weaved his way into the end zone for an apparent 80-yard touchdown. Smith Sr. celebrated.
Iloka knew better.
"It was a damn good call because I thought right away he pushed me," said Iloka. "I’m bigger than him. He can’t push me off. He can’t out-jump me for it. We both looked back. He had both hands on my chest, knocked me off and the ref called it. It was a great call."
When the yellow flags come out in that part of the field, it’s usually not a good sign for the defense. Not this time.
"If it’s PI, they should call it," said Iloka. "If it’s PI, it’s PI. Call it. If it’s not don’t call it. He called it. I knew it was PI right away. We were on the same page."
Smith Sr., who is in his 14th NFL season and first with Baltimore, was diplomatic regarding the call after the game. It came on a third-and-10 play. Flacco worked his way around pressure and threw deep down the right sideline for Smith Sr. The two had connected for an 80-yard touchdown against the Bengals in the fourth quarter of their game in Week 1 that gave the Ravens a temporary 16-15 lead. The Bengals came back to win, 23-16.
This time it was nearly Flacco and Smith Sr. who pulled off the comeback.
"The last play Joe threw a great ball," said Smith Sr. "Things happen. Ultimately you hope you don’t allow plays like that to dictate the determination of a win or loss. So, it happens. I’m not disappointed, not frustrated, just exhausted and looking forward to the opportunity to play next week."
When a reporter asked Smith Sr. if he had spoken to the official who threw the flag, Smith Sr. tersely reiterated his last answer.
Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t going to talk about the play.
"I’m not allowed to answer that question," said Harbaugh.
There were no complaints from the Cincinnati sidelines.
"I didn’t see the ball until the last minute and then I turned around and I saw (Smith Sr.) running and I saw the flag on the ground," said linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. "Oh yeah, that’s on them. I already knew it… I had a feeling. It’s that spirit, man."
Smith Sr. was targeted nine times but had just three catches for 35 yards. He entered the game leading Baltimore with 38 catches for 640 yards and four touchdowns. He initially got behind the coverage but Iloka reacted well, got back to the area where Smith Sr. was and got into position to make a play.
"It definitely wasn’t a PI on me," said Iloka. "I saw the ball, was waiting for the jump-ball and he didn’t allow me to jump. He pushed me. As much as they call defensive PI that was a great call, in my opinion."