With the Steelers clinging to a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter and the Bears clinging to comeback hopes, Marsh recorded a crucial third-down sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that would have put Pittsburgh in a fourth-and-15 situation from its own 46-yard line. However, Marsh, after turning to face the Steelers bench and flexing a bit, was flagged for taunting by referee Tony Corrente. Adding to the confusion concerning the call was that, as Marsh jogged to the Bears bench and toward Corrente, the two made contact, with Corrente seeming to step back into the Bears linebacker.
Following the game, Marsh was adamant he was not taunting and also pointed out that he was "hip-checked" by the referee.
"I think that one was just bad timing. I think it's pretty clear to everybody who saw it that I wasn't taunting. I've been doing that celebration my whole career and it's just sad to see stuff like that happen in a close game like that. It's just rough, man. I don't want to say too much 'cause y'all know how it is," Marsh said. "But the one thing that I will say is on my way to the sideline, I got hip-checked by the ref and it's pretty clear. If I were to do that to a ref or even touch the ref, we'd get kicked out of the game and possibly suspended and fined so I just think that was incredibly inappropriate and that's all I'll say about that."
Amid a season in which attention has been placed on curbing taunting, resulting in an uptick in penalties, the call was met with immediate backlash across social media and was one of 12 penalties for 115 yards in the game against the Bears. Pittsburgh had five penalties for 30 yards.
"First of all, keep in mind that taunting is a point of emphasis this year," Corrente said of the call, per the game pool report. "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."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who is a member of the league's competition committee, told reporters Tuesday that he is a proponent of the NFL's increased emphasis on taunting.
"We're just trying to clean our game up," Tomlin said, per NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala. "We understand that people playing it at a lower level watch us and often mimic us and how we conduct ourselves."
Marsh drew the flag with just more than three minutes to play and the Bears trailing, 23-20. After recording the crucial sack, Marsh pumped his fist in the air and briefly celebrated with his teammates. He then took roughly six steps toward the Pittsburgh sideline, showing a bit of swagger but not appearing to make any comments. He turned and walked past Corrente and was flagged for taunting. Corrente did not toss his flag until after making contact with Marsh, but clarified afterward that the contact had no bearing in the call.
"No, not at all," Corrente said. "I didn't judge that as anything that I dealt with."
Marsh didn't even realize he had been penalized until arriving on his team's sideline and receiving an earful from a coach.
"I had no idea 'til I got to the sideline," he said. "One of our coaches was upset, and he had the right to be. That was a big penalty at a big point in the game, and I cost my team. Whether I agree with the call or not, it cost us in a very crucial time so I definitely feel a lot of remorse for costing my team a possible victory."
While Bears head coach Matt Nagy spoke at length after the game about how costly penalties proved to be, he told reporters he did not see the Marsh penalty play out and would need to watch it back before weighing in.
"Again, I did not see it, so it's hard for me to comment yet 'cause I haven't seen it," he said. "I think we all understand it's a very, very emotional game, it's a different deal when you're watching on TV, it's an emotional game. And so, that's not excusing anything, but we gotta be smart. And it's all an emphasis this year, right? It's a major emphasis so, knowing that it's a major emphasis, we all as coaches and players gotta make sure that you just don't even put it in the gray area, right? Don't put it in that area. You guys did a great job, you worked like hell to get off the field so come off the field and celebrate with your guys. Again, I gotta see it, I didn't see it, but it's one of those deals, we know they're emphasizing it."