PITTSBURGH -- Carolina Panthers free safety Eric Reid was ejected in the third quarter Thursday night for a hit to the head of a sliding Ben Roethlisberger that left Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers teammates defending their quarterback.
Reid lowered his head with Roethlisberger already well into his slide and delivered shoulder-to-helmet contact to the six-time Pro Bowl selection at the end of his 17-yard scramble.
Reid was flagged for the third-quarter play and then ejected as officials ruled there was unnecessary roughness due to forcible contact to the head and neck area of a sliding quarterback.
The veteran defensive back said he wasn't intending to hurt Roethlisberger and apologized to him afterward, but Reid was still at a loss for why he was ejected.
"I didn't even know you could be ejected in the NFL,'' Reid said. "It was a bang-bang play. I was trying to do my job. I understand the NFL is trying to protect the quarterback, but when they run the ball, they're a running back.
"There's a guy running the ball, so I'm doing my job. ... If anything, there should be more [focus] on getting down earlier, so it wouldn't have to be close. I'm running full speed. I'm just trying to do my job.''
Roethlisberger, for his part, told reporters that Reid told him, "Sorry, didn't mean it, no intent there" and added with a smile that he didn't remember whether Reid had hit his helmet on the hit.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he didn't believe Reid's hit warranted an ejection.
"I really don't,'' he said. "I don't think he hit him hard enough to eject him.''
Roethlisberger's teammates took exception to the play as soon as it happened, with offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey leading a group of Steelers in confronting Reid while he was still on the field.
Pouncey said Roethlisberger has offered to pay any fines Pittsburgh players receive for their part in the shoving match that followed.
"Ben's the franchise quarterback,'' Pouncey said. "He means a lot to this organization, obviously to this football team. I could see if he was pulling his shoulder down trying to hit a guy, but he was giving himself up. That shouldn't happen, but Eric Reid did apologize, so I give him credit for that."
For his part, Reid says he believes there is no consistency with the call, and he noted how Carolina quarterback Cam Newton got hit in the crown of the helmet and no penalty was called.
Newton said he agreed the calls have been inconsistent, noting he was hit in the helmet last week as well and there was no call.
"It is what it is,'' Newton said. "Last week was a perfect example of the same scenario. I'm not here to judge what flag is called, but there is an inconsistency. I do understand that. I've been seeing that for a long time.''
The Panthers in late September became the first team to take a chance on Reid, who filed a collusion grievance against the NFL when no team would sign him after last season with San Francisco. Reid claimed the league colluded to keep him off a roster after he spent the previous season kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice.
He has continued to kneel during the anthem while with Carolina and has not dropped the grievance.
New Panthers owner David Tepper, who had not addressed the decision to sign Reid until prior to Thursday's game, was asked if he had to give approval first.
"What did I say when I first came here?'' Tepper said. "I said the first thing I want to do is? . . . Win. What was the second thing I said I wanted to do? That was also win. What was the third thing I wanted to do? Enough said.''
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.