Though the Steelers and Mike Tomlin hoped his $100,000 fine would put their coach's sideline misstep behind them, the NFL isn't ready to close the case just yet: If that one play has any impact on playoff tiebreaker scenarios, the Steelers could be docked draft picks.
The NFL said Wednesday that Tomlin is being fined $100,000 for interfering with a play in progress in the Thanksgiving game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The league's short statement on the ruling also read in part: "Because the conduct affected a play on the field, a modification or forfeiture of draft choices will be considered after the final order of the 2014 draft has been determined."
Steelers discuss Tomlin's fine, but say focus is on Miami
Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Ryan Clark discuss the $100,000 fine levied against head coach Mike Tomlin. (Video by Matt Freed; 12/4/2013)
Ray Anderson, the NFL vice president of operations, made the ruling. The NFL did not make Anderson available to discuss the case, but a league source said Anderson is waiting to see if there are any "unforeseen ramifications from the interference with play." Those "unforeseen ramifications" could be things such as tiebreaking procedures that go into determining playoff qualification and/or seeding.
Tomlin's actions did not affect the outcome of the game, but the Ravens did not score on that play. They settled for a field goal on the ensuing drive, which theoretically could skew playoff scenarios. For instance, the sixth tiebreaking procedure to determine a wild-card playoff berth is best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
The Steelers are one game behind the Ravens for the final playoff berth in the AFC. The Ravens have scored 249 points and have allowed 235. The Steelers have scored 263 points and allowed 278.
Because the Ravens scored 3 points and not 7 on that drive, the play in question could affect the playoffs. For that reason, the NFL is not closing the case.
The threat of lost draft picks did not sit well with the Steelers. According to a team source the Steelers are very upset with the possibility that draft picks might be forfeited, saying "there is no precedent for it."
Tomlin issued a statement shortly after the NFL made its ruling: "As I stated [Tuesday], I take full responsibility for my actions and I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. I accept the penalty that I received. I will no longer address this issue as I am preparing for an important game this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins."
At his Tuesday news conference, Tomlin called his actions "inexcusable, an embarrassment, illegal and a blunder."
The league issued the punishment because Tomlin stepped onto the field with 6:26 remaining in the third quarter as Baltimore's Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff down the Steelers sideline. Tomlin stepped out of the way to avoid Jones, but, according to the league, Tomlin violated Rule 13, Section 1, Article 4 of the NFL rule book by being in the restricted white border that surrounds the playing field and stepping onto the playing field. The league also said Tomlin should have been penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Steelers lost, 22-20.
"We're all responsible -- officials, players, coaches -- for what happens between the white lines and the NFL addresses those things," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "And they've always done a great job with that. And we respect that, certainly. Those kinds of things can happen, they do happen, to coaches, players and officials every single week and they're addressed with the National Football League. This one just got more attention than most of them. So, we've moved on from that. We're on to the Vikings now. We respect the process, we respect everybody involved, certainly respect the Steelers and Mike Tomlin completely. I never really thought for one second that there was intentionality there, personally. I guess that's why I was able to make light of it after the game. So, we've moved on from that."
Steelers players are anxious to move on, too. They have a home game Sunday against the Dolphins, a team ahead of them in the standings for the final playoff berth from the AFC. They would much rather discuss that than Tomlin's sideline behavior.
"That's something Coach Tomlin deals with," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, tersely. "We'll be ready to play ball. That's what we're here for."
Veteran safety Ryan Clark, a team captain along with Roethlisberger, was not surprised by the ruling.
"It's not the most ridiculous thing that has come down from the NFL," Clark said. "You knew they would come down on him hard to set an example about the rule. I'm just glad it didn't go into the draft pick talk.
"Coach Tomlin is fine with it. He's accepted responsibility for it. It's time to move on. We've been talking about this play since last Thursday. We're ready to get focused on Miami. We have an important game coming up and we're just kind of glad it's over."
When informed that draft picks still could be taken away, Clark said: "That would be stupid." When asked if it was fair the Steelers had to wait to learn their fate, he responded with a shot at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: "It's not supposed to be fair. It's Roger Goodell. When has he been fair?"
Tomlin is the fourth coach to incur a fine of $100,000 or more from the NFL. New England coach Bill Belichick received a $500,000 fine for illegally videotaping defensive signals of the New York Jets in the 2007 season opener.
Two others also received $100,000 fines. Dallas assistant Wade Wilson was fined $100,000 for violation of the league's substance abuse policy in 2007 and Minnesota coach Mike Tice $100,000 for selling his allotment of Super Bowl tickets in 2005.
According to Greg Aiello, NFL's senior vice president for communications, non-player fines go to the league office and are used for various purposes at the discretion of Goodell.
Gerry Dulac contributed to this report. Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.
Gerry Dulac contributed to this report. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published December 4, 2013 11:15 AM