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NFL fines Steelers' Mike Tomlin $100,000 for interfering with return

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Here's another adjective Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin can call his ill-timed two-step onto the field last Thursday night against Baltimore.

Expensive.

The NFL fined Tomlin $100,000 on Wednesday for interfering with Baltimore's Jacoby Jones on a kickoff return in the third quarter of a 22-20 loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving night.

The fine is the second-highest ever levied by the league on a head coach, behind only the $500,000 the NFL docked New England's Bill Belichick in 2007 for spying on an opponent's defensive signals.

There is also the chance the Steelers could have a draft pick taken away "because the conduct affected a play on the field." Though he was not penalized during the game, the league said the Steelers should have been flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

All that from what Tomlin called an "embarrassing, inexcusable" case of being "mesmerized" while standing in a restricted area that separates the sideline from the playing field and staring at the video board during Jones' 73-yard return.

Jones had to swerve to avoid running into the coach and was tackled during a return that might have gone for a touchdown if not for the obstruction. Tomlin briefly stepped onto the field before he jumped back.

Tomlin insists the "blunder" was not intentional but has no plans to appeal the ruling.

"I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization," Tomlin said in a statement Wednesday. "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."

Jones didn't blame Tomlin for his inability to score on the return, but his teammates believe the move put the coach and the league in a difficult position.

"I'm not going to lie, it's tough," Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "I can't say he did it on purpose because I don't know what he was thinking. It definitely sends a message across the league. He stepped across the line, which definitely threw it off."

Tomlin said he was following his normal routine on the play and said standing on the 6-foot-wide strip is common practice.

New York Giants Coach Tom Coughlin didn't disagree. Coughlin drew a 15-yard flag during the preseason for stepping onto the field during a field goal attempt.

"You find yourself sometimes running down the sideline on the white, but nevertheless, you're not even supposed to be even on the white because the officials have to have access there," Coughlin said. "That is a most difficult thing to absorb."

The league will not determine whether to take a pick away from Pittsburgh until after the draft order has been set. It would be an unprecedented move for a coach getting involved during a live play.

The NFL fined the New York Jets $100,000 in 2010 when cameras caught strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi tripping a Miami player on the sideline. Alosi was suspended by the Jets and eventually resigned after the season.

Tomlin is hardly in danger of losing his job, and said Tuesday he had not spoken to team owners Dan and Art Rooney II about the situation.

"I would imagine if the Rooneys thought that I was capable of that or they thought my intentions were that, I wouldn't be sitting at this table talking to you guys," he said.

Tomlin makes $5.25 million a season and the fine constitutes less than 2% of his annual salary. He can absorb the relatively small financial hit. He's far more concerned about the uncomfortable position he put the league and the Steelers in after failing to get out of the way with any sense of urgency.

Tomlin's predecessor, Bill Cowher, raised eyebrows but not the ire of the commissioner's office in 1997 when he feigned tackling Jacksonville's Chris Hudson as Hudson ran back a Pittsburgh field goal attempt for a touchdown on the final play of a 30-21 Jaguars victory.

Though Tomlin has no plans to change the way he goes about his business, he plans to do a better job of policing himself. The 41-year-old understands this will stick with him once the furor dies down. His goal is to make sure it doesn't stain the team as well.

Cleveland's Desmond Bryant faces heart surgery

Cleveland Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant's season has ended because of an irregular heartbeat that will require surgery.

Bryant, who signed a five-year, $34-million contract as a free agent with Cleveland in March, reported symptoms on Monday morning, a team spokesman said. Bryant played in Sunday's game against Jacksonville and was credited with four pressures on Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne.

The Browns said Bryant will undergo "a minor heart procedure" this week. He is expected to make a full recovery and resume his playing career.

Browns' QB situation muddled

The Browns' muddled quarterback situation has gotten messier. They have four quarterbacks. No starter.

With Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell recovering from concussions, and two new quarterbacks on the roster, Coach Rob Chudzinski will wait until later this week — and maybe until game time — to name his starter for the Browns' game Sunday at New England. Chudzinski doesn't know if or when Weeden and Campbell will be medically cleared to practice.

Even for the Browns, who have had three different quarterbacks start games this season and used an NFL-high 20 starters since 1999, this is new territory.

Free agent Caleb Hanie, signed by the Browns on Tuesday, struggled to describe Cleveland's strange dilemma.

"It's a little, I don't know what the word would be for it," said Hanie, who started four games for Chicago in 2011. "It's a crazy league. One week you're sitting at home eating Thanksgiving with your family and the next week you could be playing for the Browns."

With Campbell out last week, the Browns signed Alex Tanney off Dallas' practice squad. And when Weeden was diagnosed with a concussion after Sunday's loss to Jacksonville, the Browns brought in Hanie, who has been out of the league since he was released by Baltimore in August.

Cassel likely to start for Vikings

Matt Cassel is on track to start this week at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings while Christian Ponder is sidelined with a concussion.

Coach Leslie Frazier said Cassel "more than likely" will start instead of Ponder when the Vikings play at Baltimore on Sunday. Cassel took over late in the second quarter against Chicago on Sunday when Ponder was hit in the head. Cassel passed for 243 yards in half a game to help the Vikings beat the Bears in overtime. Frazier said Ponder had yet to pass all of the post-concussion tests. Even if he can practice Thursday, that's not much time for a quarterback to properly prepare. Frazier said Josh Freeman will be the backup to Cassel, who has started two games and relieved Ponder in three others.

Raiders running out of running backs

The Oakland Raiders may have to reach way down on the depth chart to fill out the backfield for their game Sunday in New York.

Darren McFadden is sidelined again, this time with an ankle injury. Rashad Jennings has made progress since sustaining a concussion last week but has yet to be cleared. Not even third-stringer Jeremy Stewart, who is nursing a combination of ankle and knee injuries, was able to practice Wednesday.

That forced the Raiders to turn to a player who hadn't taken a single snap at running back since 2012. Taiwan Jones, a fourth-round pick who was converted to cornerback during the off-season, practiced with the first-team offense and could conceivably start against the Jets if Oakland's injured running backs aren't able to do so.

Etc.

Tight end Tony Moeaki will get what's essentially a four-week tryout in Buffalo to show he's healthy after being signed by the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday.

The former Chiefs player has been out since breaking his shoulder in Kansas City's preseason win over Pittsburgh on Aug. 23. He was released by the Chiefs after reaching an injury settlement in October.

Offensive guard Harvey Dahl has returned to practice with the St. Louis Rams after missing four games with a left knee injury and expects to play Sunday at Arizona.

The Buffalo Bills cut little-used veteran running back Tashard Choice.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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