Video shows new angle of sideline play involving Steelers coach Tomlin
By Alan Robinson
Published: Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 2:24 p.m.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's much-debated sideline sidestep into the path of Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones — intentional or not — “is not important to us or him,” team captain Ryan Clark said.
It is important enough to the NFL that it is investigating why a high-profile coach became involved in an on-field play — and is weighing what discipline to take, including a possible six-figure fine.
The NFL didn't issue a ruling Monday, but those at the highest levels of the league and the franchise discussed the incident. It isn't certain whether Tomlin talked to the league office.
Tomlin denied intent again Monday in a text to Fox Sports, saying, “If anyone thinks I or anybody else would do this on purpose, they're crazy.”
A video posted Monday by KDKA-TV on its website adds a previously unseen angle that shows Tomlin intentionally moving as close to the field of play as possible shortly after the play starts, pulling back at the last moment to avoid colliding with Jones during his 73-yard return.
And while Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday, “I don't really have anything to add to it. The league will handle it,” he also said, “I think everyone should be held to the highest standard.”
The Ravens posted a video on their website showing Jones complaining to teammates on the sideline that Tomlin interfered with his return. While the Ravens settled for a field goal after the return, the incident did not affect the outcome of the Ravens' pivotal 22-20 victory that moved them ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC wild-card race.
“(The) coach is on the field. Tomlinson's (sic) on the field,” Jones said to teammate Torrey Smith soon after returning to the Ravens bench. “I had to go around him, brother. … I was looking at him the whole time, are you going to move? It broke my stride a little bit.”
While NBC's game telecast clearly showed Tomlin's right foot on the field before he pulled it back just as Jones ran by the Steelers' bench, it did not have a camera showing Tomlin throughout the return.
The KDKA video by videographer Michael Challik shows Tomlin intentionally stepping to the edge of the 6-foot white stripe that separates the bench area from the playing field only after Jones begins streaking upfield along the Steelers' sideline. Tomlin is looking away from the play, watching the stadium video board as Jones approaches.
Only last week, the NFL issued a memo to coaches warning them to keep personnel out of the white stripe.
Tomlin puts his right foot on the playing field and into Jones' path, then hops back onto the stripe after glancing sideways to his right and seeing Jones streak past him.
“He was looking at the JumboTron, facing this way (away from the play),” Jones explained to his teammates on the Ravens-posted video. “I was running down the sideline and like (expletive). Tomlinson (sic) was on the field!”
Tomlin, a member of the NFL's rule-making competition committee, denied he tried to interfere with the return, and he was not penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, as referee Clete Blakeman's crew could have done. Tomlin explained he merely lost his “placement” along the sideline.
It was the second time in as many seasons a long kick return by Jones helped the Ravens beat the Steelers in a game with playoff implications. His 63-yard punt return touchdown keyed the Ravens' 13-10 victory in Pittsburgh last season.
Multiple Steelers players Monday defended Tomlin, although the coach told his players during a team meeting that he didn't need defending.
Clark said, “He doesn't have to justify anything to us.
“There was no intent at all, no intent at all,” Clark added. “When he noticed he was in the way, he got out of the way. If he had tripped him, it would be a different story, or tackled him, but he didn't.”
Clark said it was “an unfortunate situation,” but only because, he said, the Steelers were being forced to discuss it four days after the game ended.
“It's over now, and the NFL will do what they have to do,” Clark said. “We understand that things happen. We're fine with it. We're about playing football and moving on to Miami (on Sunday).”
Team chairman Dan Rooney, president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert and Tomlin were not made available to reporters.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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