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Kevin Gorman: Steelers’ Sean Davis walks tightrope with sideline hits

As the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrated one sideline play against Tampa Bay and criticized another, free safety Sean Davis understood what it’s like to be both cheered and jeered.

Where Vance McDonald’s vicious stiff-arm of Buccaneers safety Chris Conte on a 75-yard touchdown sparked the Steelers’ 30-27 victory on “Monday Night Football,” Ben Roethlisberger called post-play penalties like the 15-yard personal-foul flag Davis drew for hitting Bucs receiver Mike Evans out of bounds in the second quarter “unnecessary” and “things that lack discipline.”

“It is tough, especially when you’re going full speed and you get to the sideline,” Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said of Davis’ decision. “You don’t want to get stiff-armed in the head and look crazy. At the same time, you don’t want to knock somebody out of bounds and get the 15-yard penalty.”

Those two plays illustrate the fine line Davis walks between being passive and aggressive on sideline plays. Not that Davis needed a reminder with the Baltimore Ravens visiting Heinz Field on Sunday night. Davis had one of his best/worst games of the season against Baltimore last December, leading the Steelers with 12 tackles and an interception but getting beat deep twice and drawing a pair of personal-foul penalties.

“Baltimore, I feel like, is always a tricky game for me personally,” Davis said. “Good things happen and bad things happen for me in those games, so I’m trying to put together my first consistent game of making splash plays and not letting those guys breathe. Something about Baltimore, I don’t know, I feel like they just get the best of me. But I’m looking forward to playing them this year.”

Davis intercepted a Joe Flacco pass that led to a Steelers touchdown drive. But he was burned on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Chris Moore in the second quarter and a 40-yarder to Mike Wallace in the third that set up a field goal. Worse yet, Davis and linebacker Arthur Moats failed to stop Alex Collins on a short pass to the sideline as Collins broke free from Moats’ grasp around his ankles and shrugged off a Davis shoulder to streak for a 37-yard gain.

That play is on Davis’ mind every time he has to make a tackle near the sideline.

“I take pride in protecting the sideline, especially after Baltimore last year when I missed that tackle and let the guy run the sideline because I didn’t hit him. I thought somebody else was going to take care of the tackle,” Davis said.

“That’s something I need to work on, have better judgment, I guess. I look forward to sideline ball because I’m coming downhill and looking forward to contact. I try not to let the same mistake happen twice. Personally, I won’t let that happen. I won’t let anybody run down the sidelines against me again. That’s mentally instilled in me, that you’ve got to beat me somewhere else than down the sidelines.”

But he overcompensated by later popping Collins in the shoulder on a 23-yard run to draw an unnecessary roughness penalty, and was flagged again for slamming tight end Benjamin Watson after an incompletion. Davis was fined $18,231 by the NFL for his late hit on Collins and could be fined again for his late hit on Evans.

Davis doesn’t like the idea of leaving the decision in another person’s hands, be it the ball-carrier or official, and knows it’s on him if an opponent scores. He has no intention of being on the receiving end of a stiff-arm shiver.

“If he’s tight-roping the sidelines, I don’t know if he can stay in bounds or out, so I’m going to do my job and get him out,” Davis said. “I’m still defending myself. He’s trying to stiff-arm me. I’m protecting myself until the whistle is blown.”

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.


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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Browns receiver Josh Gordon catches a touchdown pass, as the Steelers’ Sean Davis defends during the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins picks up a first down as the Steelers’ Sean Davis defends during the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, at Heinz Field.
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