DANA POINT, Calif. -- Mike Tomlinpicked the Cleveland Browns before last season to win the AFC North Division. His selection proved dead wrong, and he would like to keep his record perfect because yesterday he chose the Baltimore Ravens to win the division title.
"You have to like Baltimore," Tomlin said when asked for a prediction yesterday. "They won 11 games last year with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. They have a good football team. They have a great defense, they have a quarterback who proved he's their quarterback of the future, he's a guy on the rise. You have to respect that."
The Steelers beat Baltimore three times last season, each game by a hair. They won the first in overtime and the second on a controversial touchdown pass with 43 seconds left that clinched the AFC North title and a playoff bye. The Steelers then sewed up their AFC championship when Troy Polamalu returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown with 4:24 left to beat the Ravens, 23-14.
"It's great to be a part of something like that," Tomlin said. "We have a great deal of respect for those guys, the competitors, the spirit. When you think about the matchup -- and I thought a lot about it since the season ended -- I think it indicates the reflection of the leadership. When you talk about guys like Ray Lewis, James Farrior, [Derrick] Mason, [Hines] Ward -- those games play out the way they probably should. And the spirited football play from guys, they have a passion for the game and a willingness to compete, is probably unparalleled."
The NFL passed four new playing rules that focus on player safety, including the so-called Hines Ward Rule that affects blocking tactics.
The blocking rule makes illegal a blindside block if it comes from the blocker's helmet, forearm or shoulder and lands to the head or neck area of the defender. One of the highlights the NFL competition committee used to portray such a block was the one Ward made last season that broke the jaw of Cincinnati rookie linebacker Keith Rivers.
The three other rules approved yesterday were:
• Teams kicking off must have four players on each side of the kicker. The rule was passed to prevent "bunching" on onside kicks.
• No more than two players on the kickoff receiving team can form a wedge to block for the runner.
• Any hits to a "defenseless" receiver cannot be made by a defender's helmet, forearm or shoulder to the head.
When the Steelers officially close on their restructured ownership group, John Stallworth will become part of a small cluster of NFL owners.
Stallworth, who is black, will become one of only four minority owners and the Steelers will become one of only three teams to have a minority owner. The others are Deron Cherry of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Javier Loya and Kirbyjon Caldwell of the Houston Texans.
Steelers offensive linemen Darnell Stapleton and Willie Colon were among the top 16 NFL players in extra pay based on their performance in 2008.
The NFL released the top 25 players who received the extra pay from last season based on their salary level compared to their playing time.
Stapleton, the starting right guard after Kendall Simmons was lost for the season in the fourth game with a torn Achilles tendon, received an extra $311,220, ninth most on the NFL list. Colon, a tackle, received an extra $267,442, which ranked 16th among all NFL players receiving the extra compensation.