Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is a smart man and an effective leader, guiding the Steelers to a victory in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.
However, on Thanksgiving Day, he looked like a complete idiot.
The Baltimore Ravens defeated the Steelers 22-20, but it was Tomlin’s actions early in the third quarter that was the highlight—or in this case, the lowlight—of the game.
The Steelers had just scored their first touchdown of the game with just over six-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter. Down 13-7, they kicked off to the ever-dangerous Ravens return man Jacoby Jones. Jones led the NFL with two touchdowns on kickoff returns in 2012, and also scored on a 63-yard punt return.
Entering the game against the Steelers, Jones had yet to score a special teams touchdown in 2013. But on this kickoff, it looked like that might change.
Jones took the kick at the goal line, and finding a hole in the coverage, burst down the left sidelines. After streaking by the kicker at his own 40-yard line, Jones had but one man to beat—Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen.
Unbeknownst to Jones, Tomlin was also ahead of him, dangerously close to the playing field at the edge of the sidelines. At the last second, Tomlin scooted to the left, and Jones adjusted his course as well to avoid a possible collision. That last-second move allowed the streaking Allen to finally tackle Jones at the 27-yard-line after a 73-yard return.
Jones would admit after the game to NBC sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya that he was forced to alter his course because of Tomlin, making it easier for Allen to make the touchdown-saving tackle.
It remains to be seen whether Jones would have scored if Tomlin hadn’t been in the way, but it was clear to just about everyone watching and analyzing the game that Tomlin’s actions were pre-meditated.
When asked about it after the game, Tomlin passed it off as him being disoriented while watching the play unfold.
It’s hard to find many people who actually bought that excuse.
ESPN reported on Sunday that they are investigating Tomlin’s actions, and could be handing down a significant fine. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter said that was possible that the NFL would take away a draft pick as well.
In fact, Schefter said that Ravens’ players wanted Jones to run over the opposing coach.
Thankfully, the play didn’t have an effect on the outcome. The Ravens held off the Steelers when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s two-point conversion attempt with over a minute remaining in the game was thwarted by Baltimore, preserving the 22-20 win.
One can only imagine the controversy that would have swirled had the Steelers successfully converted.
In any event, there’s no question that Tomlin deserves to pay for his idiotic display of gamesmanship. It simply has no place in the game. The New York Jets found that out when they were heavily fined for a tripping incident involving strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi. Alosi was subsequently fired for his actions.
NFL rules specifically spell out the meaning of interference, and while Tomlin wasn’t penalized for his actions during the game, the NFL will have its say in the coming days.
Trying to win football games by any means necessary has been going on for decades. But if the NFL doesn’t act swiftly and harshly, they’ll be sending a message to every single team that actions like Tomlin’s on Thanksgiving Day are acceptable, and that winning takes precedence over fair play.