The referees have been terrible this season, not knowing what is going on with either administrative rules or on-field penalties. This time, the refs had it right to begin with and then doubted themselves and picked up the flag.
Check out Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison go low on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett, hitting him square in the knees. The low blow is a clear penalty and if completely intentional, is an incredibly dirty play. The referees throw the flag, but then say that Harrison was "blocked into the quarterback," and pick it up. Mallett would get off the turf in some obvious pain and fans would begin a rather loud booing.
Sorry, but Harrison was not blocked into Mallett. Horrible call by refs to pick up flag. https://t.co/HdNkwzjHoA— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) December 27, 2015
They say that Kelechi Osemele had blocked Harrison into Mallet. But as you can see on the replay, despite Osemele having his hands on the back of Harrison, there is pretty clearly no extra shove as Harrison's direction never changes and he continues in the same exact angle he had prior.
James Harrison is a solid linebacker and one that gets after quarterbacks well, but he's also one that tends to be on the receiving end of a bunch of flags for this exact type of thing. At this point in the game, the Ravens were dominating on both sides of the ball, leading 13-3. Pittsburgh Steelers players were beginning to get chippy between plays and this could easily be seen as Harrison releasing a little of that frustration between the whistles in a shady way.
Despite the flag being picked up, Harrison will almost assuredly see a fine later this week for the play. To which, we'll hear about how the league has it out for him and he'll whine like an 8-year old that got put in timeout for hitting his little brother.