Steelers coach Tomlin denies sideline actions were intentional

| Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 8:15 p.m.

Did he or didn't he?

Coach Mike Tomlin was the talk of the NFL on Friday — not necessarily for the Steelers' down-to-the-wire 22-20 loss to rival Baltimore but because he possibly interfered with Jacoby Jones' 73-yard kickoff return in the third quarter.

Did Tomlin simply not see Jones steaming down the sidelines before the coach pulled his right foot back from the field, just in time to avoid colliding with Jones at the Steelers' 40-yard line? Or was Tomlin invoking gamesmanship by intentionally trying to distract Jones?

Tomlin apologized after the game for being on the field, which is not permitted. But he also said he didn't intentionally interfere as he edged onto the field from the sideline, watching the play unfold on the scoreboard.

“I lost my placement as he broke free, and (I) saw at the last second how close I was to the field,” Tomlin said.

The NFL said the play is being reviewed. Referee Clete Blakeman's crew also will undergo scrutiny of its handling of the play and the decision not to penalize Tomlin 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Ravens weren't convinced that Tomlin merely was distracted, with wide receiver Torrey Smith saying, “He did it on purpose.” Quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He was looking at the big screen the whole entire time. He knew where he was. He knew where Jacoby was.”

Jones said he was “looking at him (Tomlin) the whole time. I am like, ‘Does he know he's on the field? I'm running. I'm looking at him as I get close, and I'm like, ‘Is he going to move?' I just weaved to get out of the way. I broke my stride a little bit, but I still shouldn't have got caught (by Cortez Allen).”

Still, Jones, said, “If I was him (Tomlin), I'd do the same thing.”

The Ravens went on to kick a field goal and take a 16-7 lead.

Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, an analyst for Fox, posted a Twitter message that the play deserved a penalty.

“I do think Tomlin should have been flagged,” Pereira wrote. “Officials didn't run into him, but he is watching the game on the JumboTron and is in the way. If they would have called the foul on Tomlin, they would have assessed 15 yards from the end of the run. Would not have awarded TD.”

A touchdown could have been awarded only if Tomlin had tripped or clearly interfered intentionally with Jones, who beat the Steelers last season in Pittsburgh with a long punt return touchdown.

While the Ravens don't believe Tomlin, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday, “That could easily happen to any of us. It's a good lesson. I have to be careful.” Belichick said he once ended up under the Gatorade table when a player ran into him.

“Obviously, we have to give the officials and the players room to play,” Belichick said. “Sometimes that just happens where you get guys caught up a little bit on the sideline.”

Three years ago, former Jets strength coach Sal Alosi lined up a string of players on the edge of the sideline in an attempt to disrupt opposing gunners who charge downfield on kick returns. After Alosi tripped Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll, the Jets were fined $100,000. Alosi later resigned.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't accuse Tomlin of impropriety but said, “I was wondering, do they credit him (Tomlin) with a tackle on that?”

Two weeks ago, Blakeman also was the referee when apparent pass interference on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowskli was not called on the final play of a loss to Carolina, ruling the ball could not have been caught.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.comor via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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