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Steelers awaiting penalties for Tomlin in sideline incident

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 9:51 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin celebrates with William Gay after Gay's interception return for a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Browns on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013 at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Steelers likely will learn early in the week what punishment will result from coach Mike Tomlin edging onto the field of play — intentionally or not — and causing Jacoby Jones to shift direction during a long kickoff return Thursday in Baltimore.

Based on precedent, the Steelers could receive a fine in the six-figure range for Tomlin wandering beyond the white sideline stripe and onto the field during Jones' 73-yard return, which led to a field goal in the Ravens' 22-20 victory. Tomlin also could be disciplined.

Tomlin, watching the stadium scoreboard rather than the play in progress, pulled his right foot back just in time to avoid colliding with Jones, who shifted to his right and subsequently was caught by Cortez Allen.

Regardless of Tomlin's intention, the NFL could punish the Steelers and the coach because the league holds head coaches to the highest standard of on-field conduct. The league also could decide to send a message by invoking a stiff penalty that would discourage other coaches and sideline personnel from attempting to influence any play.

Tomlin was not flagged for being on the field — a non-call that could result in the league disciplining referee Clete Blakeman.

Only last week, Jets defensive line coach Karl Dunbar was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for colliding with an official along the white stripe. That incident led the NFL to send a video to head coaches last week warning personnel to stay off the white sideline stripe during plays, according to FOX Sports.

Three years ago, the Jets were fined $100,000 after strength coach Sal Alosi tripped Dolphins special teams player Nolan Carroll. Alosi had lined up a string of inactive players along the sideline on punt plays, apparently to disrupt the gunners who pursue the ball after it is kicked.

The NFL is believed to be especially concerned about the Tomlin incident because he was appointed to the league's rule-creating competition committee earlier this year. It is not certain whether Tomlin's action will result in the league asking him to step down from the committee.

While ESPN reported Sunday the Steelers' punishment could include the loss of a draft pick in addition to a fine, such a penalty — or a Tomlin suspension — seems unlikely given the league's inability to determine Tomlin's intent.

Tomlin apologized for being on the field — something he said all NFL coaches do — but denied deliberately trying to disrupt Jones. The NFL does not routinely talk to players in advance of fining them, so the league probably would not discuss Tomlin's action with him in advance of its ruling.

The NBA fined Nets coach Jason Kidd $50,000 last week for gaining a competitive advantage by spilling a beverage onto the playing floor late in a game.

While the Steelers practice Monday, Tomlin is not expected to talk with reporters again until his weekly news conference Tuesday.

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

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