Mike Tomlin was clearly in the wrong when he was — accidentally? — caught in the field of play during Jacoby Jones‘ 73-yard kick return on Thursday night. And, to the surprise of many, the NFL is actually owning up to its mistake on the play.
Tomlin’s presence along the edge of the sideline impeded Jones’ return, forcing the returner to move ever so slightly back into the field of play. The move eventually allowed a Steelers defender to wrestle him down, keeping the Ravens from extending their lead. Tomlin’s interference should have drawn a flag from officials — especially considering one had to run around the Steelers head coach to keep eyes on the play — and given the Ravens even better field position. Instead, the laundry stayed tucked in their pockets, and no penalty was assessed.
In an unusual series of events on Tuesday night, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino actually acknowledged that the game officials made an error on the play and that Tomlin should have been hit with a 15-yard penalty.
“Anytime a player or a coach from the sideline is in this white area, that’s a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct,” Blandino said on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access. “If they interfere with the play, it could be what’s called a ‘palpably unfair act.’ In that instance, the referee could basically penalize the team whatever he deems equitable, which could include giving the Ravens a touchdown. That’s not the case here, but certainly coach Tomlin was in the white. He should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Although Tomlin’s error was more egregious than some other controversial calls this season, it is refreshing to see the NFL actually admit a fault for once. Blandino has skirted around criticizing the officials in the past, including on a fairly obvious missed pass interference call in the Patriots-Panthers game a few weeks ago.