Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin drifted onto the field with his back turned to the play in the third quarter Thursday night, narrowly avoiding a collision with Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones during a long kickoff return.
The bizarre sequence during the 73-yard return sparked a controversy and angered the fans at M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens wound up settling for a field goal during the 22-20 victory.
Although Tomlin wasn't penalized for sideline interference as he jumped out of the way at the last second to avoid blocking Jones' path, Jones did appear to have to adjust to his direction. The Pro Bowl kick returner immediately complained after being tackled by cornerback Cortez Allen and pointed a finger at the Steelers' bench.
“Mike Tomlin stopped us one time,” said quarterback Joe Flacco while discussing the Ravens' missed opportunities on offense. “I took some flak kind of joking around at the Super Bowl saying that I was going to run out onto the field and tackle somebody if this guy breaks it. I caught some flak for that; that's exactly what he just did. He was looking at the big screen the whole entire time. He knew where he was. He knew where Jacoby was. He pulled my move.”
After the game, Tomlin said he didn't feel that he interfered with the play while acknowledging that he shouldn't have been on the field of play.
“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.
“... I do it quite often, like everybody else in the National Football League. I was wrong, I accept responsibility.”
Jones didn't blame the coach for costing him a touchdown.
“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?'” Jones said. “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."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said jokingly about Tomlin: “I was wondering, ‘Did they credit him with the tackle on that?' That stuff happens.”
Aware that he was in the spotlight with all of the instant replays being shown, Tomlin eventually broke into a big smile.
“It was pretty funny to see him smiling about it afterwards,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “He was watching it on the screen. I don't know if he did it on purpose. They fine people for doing anything in this league. It definitely threw Jacoby off and cost us some points."
Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now a Fox analyst, wrote on Twitter that the play deserved a penalty.
“I do think Tomlin should have been flagged,” Pereira wrote. “Official didn't run into him but he is watching the game on the jumbotron and is in the way. If they would have called the foul on Tomlin, they would have assessed 15 yards from the end of the run. Would not have awarded TD.”
Smith dominates Taylor
Smith has struggled in the past against outspoken Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, having trouble escaping from his aggressive brand of press coverage.
The former Maryland standout delivered a strong rebuttal Thursday, manufacturing his most productive game ever against the veteran defensive back.
Smith kept sprinting past Taylor, beating him for a 54-yard reception in the first quarter that set up his 7-yard touchdown two plays later in the back of the end zone. Smith had six catches for 93 yards, also drawing a 26-yard pass interference penalty in the second quarter.
“He's a great corner,” Smith said. “I should have had a great day. I did all right. I didn't make enough plays. Anytime you get to go against a guy of his caliber and do OK, it says something. ...
"He was talking a lot. I thought we had grown past that. Last game, there was nothing said. This week, it was back to normal. It's fun to play against him. He's a great player."
Tucker on a roll
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker remains on a torrid streak.
The AFC Special Teams Player of the Month connected on five goals and has now hit 27 consecutive field goals, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Against the Steelers, Tucker made kicks from 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards.
"I don't think I'd say anything about being at an all-time high, or I really don't even acknowledge when people tell me that I'm on some sort of a streak or anything," Tucker said. "I just feel like I'm doing my job. ... I do feel like I'm just hitting the ball well. I feel like I've been hitting my ball all season long."
Tucker tied a Ravens single-game record for field goals, previously accomplished four times by Matt Stover and twice by Billy Cundiff.
In his second season, Tucker has converted 29 of 31 field goals, with his only misfires coming against the Cleveland Browns in the second week of the season.
“What more can you say?” Harbaugh said. “He's gotten every accolade. It's been well-deserved. So, Tuck deserves the credit as does his operation and his protection. They all did a great job."
Pitta not activated
It will be at least another week before tight end Dennis Pitta rejoins the Ravens' active roster, and perhaps a bit longer before he regains his pass-catching role.
The Ravens followed through on their original plan by not activating Pitta from short-term injured reserve hours before Thursday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens had until 4 p.m. to do so in order for Pitta to be eligible for the game, but that was never their intention.
According to sources, the Ravens plan to activate Pitta heading into the Dec. 8 game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Pitta returned to practice last week. As a result, next week marks the end of a three-week window for Pitta to either join the active roster or be placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Pitta underwent surgery on his right hip after fracturing and dislocating it during a training-camp practice July 27. He got tangled up with strong safety James Ihedigbo on a high end zone pass from Joe Flacco and landed awkwardly on his hip.
On Wednesday, coach John Harbaugh said Pitta was “closer” to returning. Pitta would be available to play in the final four games of the regular season.
The Ravens want Pitta active by the Vikings game so they can potentially have him play on a limited basis in that game or the following week against the Detroit Lions.
Pitta has been participating in individual drills for the past two weeks, catching passes before and after practice.
Ngata starts quickly
Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata said this week that his left knee was getting back to normal after he sprained it against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 10 and then missed a game against the Chicago Bears a week later.
Ngata backed up his words in the first quarter Thursday night, bursting through center Fernando Velasco's block to stuff rookie running back Le'Veon Bell for no gain on the Steelers' opening play.
The Ravens had advocated a more patient approach against Bell after he punished them for a career-high 93 yards during a 19-16 loss to the Steelers on Oct. 20 at Heinz Field.
They shut down his cutback lanes with better lane discipline and block-shedding techniques, holding him to 21 yards on nine carries in the first half.
There were three confrontations in the first half between the Ravens and the Steelers, living up to the tradition of feisty exchanges between the AFC North rivals.
The most notable altercation ensued when Smith (Maryland) shoved Taylor in the chest, setting off a large scrum with officials eventually stepping in to restore order.
No flags were thrown, and tempers cooled after that incident.
Stokley sprains knee
Veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley left the game at the end of the first half with a sprained left knee and did not return.
In just his second game back from a recurring groin injury that had bothered him since the third week of the season, Stokley injured his left knee at the end of a route and went to the locker room for further examination. He went back on the field for one play before he was ruled out for the rest of the game.
Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil left the game with a left ankle sprain in the first half, but returned in the second half.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith may have suffered a concussion during his collision with Bell and went through the NFL testing protocol.
"Jimmy should be OK," Harbaugh said.
Cornerback Corey Graham landed badly in the fourth quarter, but went back in the game.
"I just fell on my hip," he said. "I made a break on the ball and then I came down on my hip. It's not a big deal. I should be all right."
Steelers starting outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was ruled out before kickoff, the third consecutive game he has missed because of a calf injury.
He had been listed as doubtful on the injury report.
The Ravens had no surprises with their scratches, deactivating safety Brynden Trawick (high ankle sprain), safety Omar Brown, running back Bernard Scott, center Ryan Jensen, wide receiver Deonte Thompson, outside linebacker John Simon and defensive tackle Brandon Williams.
Reserve cornerback Asa Jackson was active for the second time this season.
The Ravens game captains were offensive guard Marshal Yanda, offensive tackle Michael Oher, Ngata, middle linebacker Daryl Smith and wide receiver Jacoby Jones. … The Steelers also deactivated quarterback Landry Jones, wide receiver Derek Moye, cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, tight end Richard Gordon, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and nose tackle Steve McLendon (sprained right ankle). ... The Ravens are now 11-5 all-time wearing their black jerseys, going 8-2 under Harbaugh (4-2 in white pants and 4-0 in black pants).