On the Steelers’ first touchdown of Sunday’s game, Marlon Humphrey came flying in trying to punch the ball out of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands and ended up with nothing but a face full of turf.
When Humphrey came to the sideline, friend and safety DeShon Elliott told him that he should have just secured the tackle.
“I’m thinking in my head, ‘Nah, I’m going to do it again,’” Humphrey said.
Given a second chance in overtime of Sunday’s game, with the Steelers nearing game-winning scoring range, Humphrey indeed did it again. This time, jackpot!
Humphrey punched the ball out, then got up and scooped it up himself, setting up Justin Tucker’s game-winning 46-yard field goal. It was the kind of play in Pittsburgh that will be remembered for a long time – right alongside Torrey Smith’s game-winning catch or Terrell Suggs’ thigh-master interception and others.
“I love playing here, I love playing against the Steelers. It’s great, man,” Humphrey said.
“I was on the sideline thinking, ‘Whatever happens right now, somebody is going to make a big play and be remembered forever for the outcome of this game.’ I thought it was going to be Lamar [Jackson], but it ended up being [Tucker]. And I guess maybe me a little bit.”
Humphrey got a well-deserved game ball from Head Coach John Harbaugh in the postgame locker room. Humphrey said it was “cool” multiple times. He still remembers a picture in his childhood home of his father, a former NFL running back, getting a game ball from his head coach.
“What an awesome play,” Harbaugh said. “You make plays like that in a rivalry like this, in a game that means so much early in the season, that’s what big-time players do. Big-time players make big-time plays in big games. That’s what Marlon Humphrey just did.”
On a defense that has struggled, and had some tough moments again in Pittsburgh, Humphrey has been the unit’s bright spot.
He’s had some misplays in coverage that led to big plays, but he locked up Odell Beckham Jr. last week and shadowed the Steelers’ best wide receiver, Smith-Schuster, for much of Sunday’s game. Smith-Schuster played more in the slot than Humphrey is accustomed to, and was lined up there as well on the game-deciding play in overtime.
Humphrey trailed him to the sideline for what would have been a 10-yard catch to put the Steelers near midfield. He didn’t play it exactly like he did the first time, however. Humphrey took Elliott’s advice and secured the tackle first before punching for the ball.
Humphrey gave credit to his coaches for setting up punch-out drills in practice. The Ravens coaches keep a tally of every fumble each week to encourage players to get the ball out.
“It’s not really a thing you just do. It’s just kind of instinct,” Humphrey said. “You just practice so much that when you get the opportunity, you try to secure the tackle and then punch the ball out.”
The crazy part is Humphrey punched the ball out at the Steelers’ 45-yard line. It bounced a full seven or so yards away and linebacker Josh Bynes had a great shot at it but whiffed. It took another funny bounce away from Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges before Humphrey scooped it.
Five seconds passed between the punch and recovery, and Humphrey got both.
“I thought we were going to scoop it, but then [Bynes] didn’t and I was like, ‘Wow, it’s still on the ground,’” Humphrey said. “So then I went and trapped it and tried to score but I got tackled.”
Asked what he could have done differently, Smith-Schuster said to “squeeze [the ball] harder.”
“I feel terrible, man. This is literally the worst feeling ever,” the Steelers wideout said.
“Knowing that you have the game on the line in overtime and you have the ball. Knowing that Marlon Humphrey, that is what he does. He made a great play in a great situation and he came through for his team.”