Depending on who you ask, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin intentionally positioned himself on the field in an effort to slow the Ravens' Jacoby Jones' clear path to the end zone during a third quarter kick return. Instead of Jones celebrating six, he was tackled by Cortez Allen and the Ravens had to eventually settle for a field goal.
That sequence of events sent Twitter to DEFCON 1, replete with Zapruder-style, frame-by-frame breakdowns divining Tomlin's intentions from grainy television footage.
After the game, Tomlin explained that “I always watch the returns on the JumboTron; it provides a better perspective for me. I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play. ... I do it quite often, like everybody else in the National Football League. I was wrong, I accept responsibility.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh joked afterwards: “I was wondering, ‘Did they credit [Tomlin] with the tackle on that?'" before adding: "That stuff happens.”
And while Jones was surprised to see Tomlin on the field, he didn't blame the coach.
“As soon as I hit the hole and I was running down the sideline, I was looking at him the whole time like, ‘Is he going to move?'” said Jones. “Literally, I was thinking, ‘Is he going to move?' I just weaved out of the way. I broke my stride a little bit but I still should not have gotten caught. I would have done the same thing if I was him. ...
"Before I got to him, he was halfway on the field. He gave me a little juke, and I tried to juke him. It is what it is. He was on the field."
The league will review the matter, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows what Tomlin means about losing your "placement" on the field. The Patriots coach said Friday that he had once been "blown up" while not paying attention on the sidelines and ended up under a Gatorade table.
“Obviously we have to give the officials and the players room to play,” Belichick said in comments distributed by the team (via PFT). “Sometimes that just happens where you get guys caught up a little bit on the sideline. But yeah, I saw the play last night. I was like, ‘Oh my God, yeah.' That could easily happen to any of us. It's a good lesson, I have to be careful.”
The NFL will decide whether Tomlin should be punished but there's also this: Why didn't referee Clete Blakeman flag Tomlin for impeding the side judge, who had to run around the coach while following the play downfield?
This is the second time in 10 days that Blakeman has been at the center of a controversial no-call. He was the official who failed to explain in Week 11 why it was legal for the Panthers' Luke Kuechly to bear-hug Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone as time expired.