Perhaps the hottest topic after Thursday’s game was a play that didn’t end up factoring into the result of the Ravens’ 22-20 win over the Steelers.
However, it sure came close to making a difference.
In the third quarter, Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff 73 yards to the Pittsburgh 27. It looked like he might break it for a touchdown, but Cortez Allen caught him, bringing the Baltimore offense onto the field.
And then the replay began to air on repeat - on television, on the jumbotrons, everywhere.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had his back to the return, and was on the field with one foot on the white out-of-bounds stripe and one foot in play as Jones approached him while sprinting down the Pittsburgh sideline. Jones appeared to cut toward the middle of the field because of Tomlin, who jumped out of the way when Jones actually crossed his path.
It could be argued that Tomlin forced Jones to slow down, leading to Allen catching him and keeping him out of the end zone. The Ravens settled for a field goal on the drive, taking a 16-7 lead instead of perhaps starting to put the game away at 20-7.
What did Jones see during his return?
“The same thing you saw. Once I broke, until I hit the hole, I’m running outside, I’m looking; I promise you, I’m looking at him the whole time. I’m like, ‘Does he know he’s on the field?’ ” Jones said. “I’m running, I’m looking at him, and as I get close I’m like, ‘Is he going to move?’ I just weaved to get out of the way. It broke my stride a little bit, which I still shouldn’t have got caught. It is what it is, but (they) made the tackle. If I was him, I’d do the same thing. ...
“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.”
Jones didn’t think it cost him a touchdown, however.
“Did it? I don’t like to blame other people for the actions. I still should have scored,” he said. “I should have broke the tackle or something. As long as we got the W, I’m fine. That’s all that matters.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco was light-hearted about the incident after the game, and coach John Harbaugh made a crack at his head-coaching counterpart about the play.
“Mike Tomlin stopped us one time. I took some flak for joking around in the Super Bowl and saying that maybe you should run onto the field and tackle somebody if this guy breaks it,” Flacco said. “That’s exactly what he just did. He was looking at the big screen the whole entire time. He knew where he was, and he knew where Jacoby was. He pulled my move. He did what I thought we should do.”
Said Harbaugh: “I was wondering, did they credit him with a tackle on that? Hey, that stuff happens. It happens.”
Tomlin discussed it after the game, and said he didn’t feel he interfered on the play. He explained his side of being where he was on the field.
“I always watch the returns on the jumbotron. It provides a better perspective for me,” Tomlin said. “I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play.”
Was he aware of the rules stating he isn’t even supposed to be on the white stripe, let alone the field, with the game ongoing?
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Tomlin said. “I do it quite often, like everybody else in the National Football League. I was wrong, I accept responsibility for it.”