Mike Tomlin Opens Up About Steelers-Ravens, Infamous Sideline Sidestep

Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh

Rob Carr/Getty Images Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin (L) talks with Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh before the start of an NFL game at M&T Bank Stadium on November 28, 2013.

It’s been nearly a decade since Mike Tomlin’s so-called sideline sidestep prevented Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones from returning a kickoff for a touchdown during a Thanksgiving night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last week, during his 90-minute-long appearance on The Pivot podcast (with former Steelers safety Ryan Clark, former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor and ex-Dolphins running back Channing Crowder) the longtime Steelers head coach offered a detailed explanation about why he interfered with Jones.

The subject came up when Crowder asked Tomlin point-blank:

“I’m friends with Jacoby Jones. Were you trying to trip that man on the sidelines?”

Tomlin began by noting that he would never do such a thing intentionally, owing to his respect for those who make their living in the NFL.

“I told Jacoby, for a long period of time I didn’t care whether or not the story got told. People that know me, and know the level of respect I have for the game and the men that play it, I don’t feel the need to explain it to them. And those that don’t know me, I just assume they think the worst of me. I don’t care,” began Tomlin, “But, heck no, man, I wasn’t interested in getting run over.”

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Mike Tomlin: Jacoby Jones Kickoff Return ‘Like Watching a Horror Movie’

Tomlin went on to offer an in-depth explanation for why he interfered with Jones. Having noted that he likes to watch kick returns on the JumboTron (so he can “see the contour of the coverage unit and the kick return unit come together”) he blamed his mistake, in part, on the lousy execution of his coverage team.

“In that instance we were kicking left to right and the JumboTron was behind our kick (coverage) unit. So, we kick the ball off and I’m looking up at the contour of the deal and somebody falls down. When somebody fell down, I almost leaned in on the JumboTron. And then I saw a double-team block and I said, ‘Oh, no!’ And then I’m walking at the JumboTron like I’m watching a horror movie,” he said.

“What people don’t talk about is the stuff that’s on the Jumbotron is backwards. It’s flipped. So, I’m watching the Jumbotron (and) it looks like he’s running up the right sideline, but actually he’s coming up our sideline,” he continued. “Once the ball got kicked, I’m locked in on the JumboTron and watching the structure of it break down, and it has got my attention. And I’m walking at it and I’m looking and in my mind, I’m thinking he’s going up their sideline because the JumboTron picture is backwards.”

Tomlin: ‘I Didn’t Realize I Was in Danger Until …’

That said, “I didn’t realize I was in danger until I saw myself on the JumboTron,” continued Tomlin, wrapping up his explanation. “No joke. I saw myself on the JumboTron. I dodged Jacoby because I saw myself. I never saw him. I was like, Ohhhhh! And he went by me.”

Tomlin went on to admit that that his mistake forced Jones to step inside, allowing Steelers backup cornerback Cortez Allen to make the tackle and limit Jones to a 73-yard return, instead of the touchdown that would have given the Ravens a 19-7 lead.

“And I paid $100,000 for that mistake,” he emphasized, referring to the league fine that added financial injury to the insult of losing the game to Ravens, who prevailed 22-20 after the Steelers failed to convert a two-point attempt in the closing moments.

Jacoby Jones Went on to Sign With the Steelers in 2015

During the aforementioned interview, Tomlin alludes to the fact that he has since spoken about the incident with Jacoby Jones, getting the chance to do so when Jones joined the Steelers for four games in 2015, making Pittsburgh the last of his four stops in the NFL.

But the former third-round pick (2007) of the Houston Texans is best-remembered for the three seasons he spent in Baltimore (2012-14), having earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2012 for his kick return prowess. Per Pro Football Reference, Jones scored three touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns, and averaged 30.7 yards on 38 kickoff returns.

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