Sun Sentinel
National Football League
             === Extra Points: Missing the mark on Tomlin ===
 By John McMullen, NFL Editor
 Philadelphia, PA ( - Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike
 Tomlin made a mistake on Thanksgiving night, one that cost him $100,000 and
 the possible forfeiture of a draft choice.
 Tomlin, one of three coaches on the NFL's nine-member competition committee,
 called his actions on Jacoby Jones' 73-yard kickoff return on Turkey Day "a
 blunder," and had no problem taking responsibility for them.
 "As head coaches, we're held to higher standards of conduct, and that blunder
 fell woefully short and in that vein I accept the repercussions of a blunder
 of that nature," Tomlin said on Tuesday. "I embrace it. With my position comes
 preserving the integrity of the game of football."
 Tomlin, of course, stepped on the field of play and interfered with Jones as
 the kickoff returner was loose on the sidelines and heading toward the end
 zone during Baltimore's eventual 22-20 heart-stopping win over the Steelers.
 The narrative of this story, however, has been all wrong since the
 moment it happened.
 Most are caught up in trying to figure out if Tomlin was the second shooter on
 the grassy knoll or if he is a big fan of NASCAR's if you ain't cheatin,' you
 ain't tryin'-mantra.
 The Zapruder film in this conspiracy came from a local Pittsburgh television
 station which released footage of a great camera angle from behind the play.
 In it, Tomlin sees the play unfolding on the jumbotron and, just as Jones
 approaches, makes a strange hiccup while trying to flee from his illegal
 position, one in which his right leg juts out on the field before he scurries
 left and out of harm's way.
 Jones was unquestionably forced to change his gait because of the motion and
 was chased down by the Steelers' Cortez Allen.
 Never mind that Allen had the angle on Jones and looked like he was going to
 catch him with or without Tomlin's help, to some the coach's actions turned a
 sure seven points into just three and gave Pittsburgh a chance to deadlock
 things at the end of the game, something they were ultimately unable to do
 when Emmanuel Sanders' dropped Ben Roethlisberger's back-shoulder fade on a
 two-point conversion.
 Perhaps that was karma but whether or not Tomlin did it on purpose (he
 didn't), has clouded the larger and far more important point -- the officials
 blew the call.
 Let's address Tomlin's actions first.
 For all the conspiracy theorists who will forever brand the Super Bowl-winning
 coach as an underhanded cheat, who has little to no respect for the idea of
 competition or the game, understand you're also labeling him as a genius -- an
 evil one perhaps -- but nonetheless a genius.
 Think about it. We all know Jones is a great kickoff returner but to assume
 he's taking one to the house and to station yourself in that particular
 position at that exact time, knowing it generally takes less than 15 seconds
 for any top-tier return man to traverse 100-plus yards defines incredulity.
 "I did see the Soul Train picture," Tomlin said of his strange jig. "That was
 interesting. I've heard all the jokes. And I've got it coming."
 This is not about painting Tomlin or any other NFL coach as Mother Theresa
 either. There are plenty of guys who would do anything to win and if they
 thought they could get away with what Tomlin did, they certainly would. And
 that speaks directly to the more level-headed who understand Tomlin didn't
 position himself there on purpose but took advantage of it when he realized
 Jones was barreling toward six points.
 Remember, however, Tomlin did his dirty deed in the open field, yards away
 from two different zebras who had a better view than the 27 high-definition
 cameras capturing the faux pas. Expecting to get away with that is relying on
 the incompetence of officials, the eventual outcome but hardly one which can
 be counted on as strategy.
 The truth is nearly every NFL coach and many assistants step on the field of
 play during an NFL game, technically a rules violation, but it's allowed
 unless it actually affects things on the field. Most coaches never do it when
 the action is near them so it's a no-harm, no-foul kind of situation.
 "I do it quite often, like everybody else in the National Football League,"
 Tomlin admitted. "I was wrong. I accept responsibility for it."
 As a member of that competition committee, which heavily influences the rules
 of this game, Tomlin should be setting an example for the rest of the league's
 coaches. A fine here is appropriate. A suspension is probably a bit much and
 losing a draft pick over this is ludicrous.
 Think about it --  when a player holds on a kickoff return for a TD in full
 view of the zebras but isn't caught, are we all clamoring for suspensions or
 draft picks?
 Tomlin can't complain though. His hand was in the cookie jar and lack of pre-
 meditation isn't a defense.
 "I will take this unfortunate incident -- this blunder on my part -- and in
 doing so, I will honor to stand up and champion our game, and in particular,
 the National Football League, and the integrity of that," Tomlin said. "It's
 all that I have professionally. It's been very good to me in my life, and to
 be honest with you, quite frankly, the winning of any game is not important
 enough for me to jeopardize that."
 If only the league itself had a similar code of ethics.
 The real danger to "the shield" here isn't Tomlin's integrity, it's the
 league's. It was the zebras who blew a simple call yet the NFL doesn't
 seemed all that concerned with punishing them.
 Remember if the two officials who had a clear view of Tomlin standing on the
 field had thrown the flag, this wouldn't even be a controversy. Baltimore
 could have been awarded a touchdown or a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call
 on Tomlin (the proper penalty with 20-20 hindsight as a guide).
 And understand the officiating miscue in Baltimore was hardly the only
 egregious one over the holiday weekend.
 Titans coach Mike Munchak confirmed the NFL admitted that three different
 officiating mistakes cost his team big in Sunday's monster loss at
 "Mistakes are going to happen," Munchak said. "It's upsetting when you feel
 they could affect a game one way or another. But you just want consistency
 when things aren't going your way. This game is getting very hard to play
 because of a lot of the ways that it's being called."
 Arizona mentor Bruce Arians took the high-road after a huge three-point loss
 in Philadelphia, which featured a handful of key calls going against the
 Cardinals. After watching the film, however, Arians sent "about 15 calls" --
 yes, 15! -- to the league, expecting answers from NFL head of officiating Dean
 "There were obviously very, very many problems (with the officiating)," Arians
 The Cards coach refused to share what the results were but asked if he got any
 satisfaction from the answers, he told the Associated Press, "No, I just get
 Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Redskins-Giants game, the league was forced
 to admit referee Jeff Triplette should have stopped the contest to clear up
 mass confusion over what down it was late in the game.
 The statement made sure to confirm a second-down pass to the Redskins' Pierre
 Garcon was "correctly spotted" short of a first down, but that the head
 linesman "incorrectly motioned for the chain crew to advance the chains, which
 caused the down boxes to read first down" and confuse the Washington sideline.
 You may say Garcon's eventual fourth-down conversion and subsequent fumble
 made the whole matter moot but if the Redskins understood they never converted
 on second down, the entire thought process on the ensuing play calls changes.
 In all, that's at least four games in Week 13 being directly affected by poor
 officiating. Simple math says that's 25 percent of the league's product and
 that number is hardly a rarity on a week to week basis.
 Blandino can assure you that certain officials will be "downgraded." What he
 can't do is assure you or coaches like Munchak, Arians and Mike Shanahan that
 their players will be deciding games moving forward.
 Accountability was always the issue here but not Mike Tomlin's.
 The Sports Network's updated NFL Power Poll, which ranks all 32 league teams,
 can be found here:
 THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - WEEK 14
 Houston (2-10) at Jacksonville (3-9), Thursday, 8:25 p.m.
 LINE: Texans by 3
 THE SKINNY: Teddy Bridgewater was probably trying to find a good
 realtor in Northeast Florida for months but all of a sudden the Louisville
 star and projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft has to expand his
 search to South Texas.
 After starting the season 0-9, first-year coach Gus Bradley and the
 Jaguars have won three of four games. Meanwhile, the Texans, who won back-to-
 back AFC South crowns in 2011 and 2012, have dropped a franchise-worst 10
 consecutive contests after a promising 2-0 beginning.
 Both teams remain in play for Bridgewater and some of the other top talent
 expected to be available in May's selection process but all of a sudden the
 Texans are looking up at the Jags in the standings as the team's prepare to
 meet in the Sunshine State on "Thursday Night Football."
 The Jags will be aiming to sweep the season series after stopping a five-game
 skid against the Texans by winning in Houston, 13-6, back on Nov. 24,
 something Texans star receiver Andre Johnson called the "lowest point" of his
 NFL career.
 PREDICTION: Jaguars 20, Texans 14
 Minnesota (3-8-1) at Baltimore (6-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: Ravens by 7
 THE SKINNY: The reigning Super Bowl champion Ravens currently hold the AFC's
 sixth and final playoff spot with four games to go. Baltimore has a slim
 margin for error, however, and needs to take advantage of a lesser opponent on
 its home field. The Ravens have won 26 of their last 30 in the Charm City and
 quarterback Joe Flacco is an imposing 10-1 on his home field against NFC
 The Vikings continue to ride the quarterback carousel despite the fact Matt
 Cassel has been far more effective than Christian Ponder. Whomever starts at
 the game's most important position, however, Minnesota lives and dies with
 Adrian Peterson, who ran for 211 yards in Week 13 against Chicago and became
 the third fastest player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career rushing yards
 (101 games). In Peterson's only other meeting against the Ravens, he piled up
 143 yards.
 PREDICTION: Ravens 27, Vikings 20
 Indianapolis (8-4) at Cincinnati (8-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: Bengals by 5 1/2
 THE SKINNY: Two division leaders meet when the Bengals host the Colts.
 Cincinnati leads the AFC North by two games over Baltimore, while Indianapolis
 has opened up a three-game lead over Tennessee and can clinch he AFC South
 with a win over the Bengals or a loss by the Titans, who are at 10-2 Denver.
 Last week, the Colts defeated the Titans 22-14 behind veteran kicker Adam
 Vinatieri, who matched his career high with five field goals. The game marked
 the 87th time in Vinatieri's career that he has accounted for his team's
 margin of victory, the second most in NFL history.
 "It was time to put something together," said Indianapolis head coach Chuck
 Pagano. "The division was hanging in the balance and everything was on the
 line. The guys manned up."
 For the Bengals, quarterback Andy Dalton joined Peyton Manning as the only
 players in NFL history to pass for at least 3,000 yards in each of their first
 three seasons during a 17-10 win at San Diego last week.
 PREDICTION: Bengals 21, Colts 17
 Cleveland (4-8) at New England (9-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: No Line
 THE SKINNY: The Patriots are on the verge of another AFC East title. New
 England can clinch the division by beating or tying the slumping Browns
 coupled with a Miami loss or tie at Pittsburgh. The Pats can also notch a
 postseason berth by taking care of business against Cleveland paired with a
 Baltimore loss against Minnesota.
 New England has won 16 of its past 17 December games and Tom Brady is 4-1 as a
 starter in his career versus the Browns. For Cleveland these days, it's all
 about dynamic receiver Josh Gordon, who had 10 catches for a franchise record
 261 yards and two TDs last week against Jacksonville last week, becoming the
 first player in NFL history to have 200 receiving yards in consecutive games.
 Gordon also has 623 yards over his last three contests, the most in NFL
 history over a three-game stretch.
 PREDICTION: Patriots 34, Browns 17
 Oakland (4-8) at NY Jets (5-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: Jets by 2 1/2
 THE SKINNY: Despite being unable to complete 10 passes in any of his last four
 games, the Jets will stick with embattled rookie QB Geno Smith.
 "I'm going to go with Geno as our quarterback," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "I
 believe in Geno. I think he has the tools to be a good quarterback in this
 Smith might have the tools but the former West Virginia star has completed
 just 29 total passes over his previous four starts with one touchdown and 11
 interceptions in that span.
 Meanwhile, Raiders undrafted rookie Matt McGloin, a former walk-on at Penn
 State, has played pretty well since being inserted in the starting lineup,
 recording 452 passing yards and a 90.3 passer rating in his two career
 starts away from Oakland.
 PREDICTION: Raiders 17, Jets 16
 Detroit (7-5) at Philadelphia (7-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: Eagles by 2 1/2
 THE SKINNY: Both the Lions and Eagles enter the final quarter of the 2013
 season with 7-5 records and an eye on the playoffs. Detroit currently leads
 the NFC North by a game over Chicago, while Philadelphia is deadlocked with
 Dallas atop the NFC East.
 On Thanksgiving Day, the Lions knocked off an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay
 team, 40-10. Detroit running back Reggie Bush had 182 scrimmage yards with a
 touchdown, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson had six catches for 101 yards with
 a touchdown. Defensively, the Lions limited the Packers to 126 total net yards
 and did not allow an offensive touchdown.
 "It was a huge win for us," said Bush. "We answered the call. We came out with
 a win and we're in first place right now. We have another big game coming up
 this week."
 The Eagles have won four in a row, including last week's 24-21 win over
 Arizona. Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes and
 has now thrown 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions this year, the second-
 longest streak to begin a season for the most touchdown passes before an
 "Each week is a big test for us," said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who
 leads the NFL with 1,523 scrimmage yards. "We cannot look too far ahead. We
 have to look to our next game against Detroit and try to be 1-0 this week."
 PREDICTION: Eagles 23, Lions 20
 Miami (6-6) at Pittsburgh (5-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: Steelers by 3
 THE SKINNY: Six teams are within one game of the final playoff spot in the AFC
 with just four games to go and two of them will meet in Western Pennsylvania.
 At 6-6 Miami is currently tied with Baltimore for the last postseason berth
 although the Ravens own the tiebreaker. The Steelers are one of four teams a
 game back after a tough Thanksgiving Day loss at Baltimore.
 The Steelers have won three in a row at home against Miami and will be leaning
 heavily on a weather forecast that calls for temperatures in the 30s come
 PREDICTION: Steelers 24, Dolphins 14
 Buffalo (4-8) at Tampa Bay (3-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: Buccaneers by 2 1/2
 THE SKINNY: Two of the game's promising young QBs meet in Central Florida when
 Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon and Buffalo's EJ Manuel square off. Glennon has
 completed 76-of-109 (nearly 70 percent) for 965 yards with seven TDs and just
 two INTs for a 110.8 passer rating over his past five games and was named NFL
 Offensive Rookie of Month for November. Manuel is just two TD passes shy for
 the most ever by a Bills rookie and has amassed a 103.1 rating in his last
 three games.
 PREDICTION: Bills 23, Buccaneers 20
 Kansas City (9-3) at Washington (3-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: Chiefs by 3 1/2
 THE SKINNY: Kansas City coach Andy Reid will take a fourth stab at becoming
 the 21st coach in NFL history to pile up 150 wins when his suddenly slumping
 Chiefs visit the moribund Redskins.
 After a 9-0 start Kansas City has dropped three straight while facing a
 murderer's row of QBs featuring Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Manning
 again. The Chiefs are 7-1 all-time against Washington, however, and Reid
 himself is 17-11 against the 'Skins. Meanwhile, despite the three-game skid,
 Kansas City can clinch a postseason berth with a win and some help.
 PREDICTION: Chiefs 24, Redskins 16
 Atlanta (3-9) at Green Bay (5-6-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
 LINE: No Line
 THE SKINNY: For Green Bay, it all boils down to whether or not QB Aaron
 Rodgers get back in the lineup. With Rodgers, the Packers are a legitimate
 Super Bowl contender. Without him they are 0-4-1 and the Grey Cup seems out of
 reach in Titletown.
 The Pack haven't cleared Rodgers, who is recovering from a broken collarbone
 suffered against Chicago back on Nov. 4, but they haven't ruled him out
 either. Rodgers is expected to participate on a limited basis in practice and
 if he can't go, it looks as if Matt Flynn will get the start over Scott
 Tolzien again.
 "At this point, it's really about the risk of going back out there," Rodgers
 said Tuesday night on his weekly radio show). "I can't say this morning was
 the greatest news because I was hoping for full clearance to get back out
 there and we didn't get that."
 My guess is Rodgers plays and that puts Green Bay back in the win column.
 PREDICTION: Packers 27, Falcons 17
 Tennessee (5-7) at Denver (10-2), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
 LINE: Broncos by 11 1/2
 THE SKINNY: John Fox is back and the Broncos are on the verge of another
 postseason berth. Denver can clinch a spot in the dance by taking care of the
 Titans or hoping for a Miami and/or Baltimore loss or tie.
 Interim coach Jack Del Rio had been piloting the Broncos since Fox had a
 procedure to replace his aortic valve on Nov. 4, a condition which he tried to
 delay until after the season before he felt dizzy and light-headed during a
 bye-week trip to his offseason home in Charlotte.
 "I feel as healthy as I've ever felt in the last 20 years," Fox said. "I feel
 tremendous, obviously the doctors feel good about me getting back to work. I
 actually would have preferred to have been back sooner, but there was a pretty
 hard deadline after the surgery of four weeks, and I honored that."
 Fox returns to a team that has scored 464 points through 12 games, the third-
 best total in NFL history over that span (New England, 469 in 2007; LA Rams,
 466 in 1950), and is 13-1 at home since 2012. On the other hand Fox has never
 neaten Tennessee, going 0-3 against the Titans in his career.
 PREDICTION: Broncos 34, Titans 23
 St. Louis (5-7) at Arizona (7-5), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
 LINE: Cardinals by 6
 THE SKINNY: The Cardinals face a virtual must-win situation if they hope to
 remain in the thick of a tightly contested battle for the final playoff berth
 in the NFC. Outside of the four NFC division leaders -- Seattle, New Orleans,
 Detroit and Dallas -- and 9-3 Carolina, four teams have at least seven wins
 and are battling for the last postseason spot.
 Arizona has lost three straight to the Rams, including a 27-24 decision in
 Week 1, but the Cardinals have won three consecutive at home and have
 outscored opponents 94-48 over that span.
 PREDICTION: Cardinals 27, Rams 20
 NY Giants (5-7) at San Diego (5-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
 LINE: Chargers by 3
 THE SKINNY: This could serve as an interconference elimination game for two
 5-7 teams on the outside, looking in at the postseason race.
 For San Diego, Philip Rivers hopes to build on his big season. The veteran
 needs just 367 passing yards to register his fifth 4,000-yard season and
 already has four games with at least 390 passing yards this season, tied with
 Hall of Famers Dan Marino (1984) and Joe Montana (1990) for the most such
 games in season. The Giants are looking to build on Justin Tuck's career-best,
 four-sack performance in a win over Washington last week.
 PREDICTION: Chargers 23, Giants 17
 Seattle (11-1) at San Francisco (8-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
 LINE: 49ers by 3
 THE SKINNY: At 11-1, the Seahawks are the only NFL team to have clinched a
 postseason berth and have a three-game lead over the 49ers in the NFC West.
 Seattle will clinch the division -- and a first-round bye -- with a win on
 The Seahawks have won their past two meetings against the 49ers by a combined
 71-16 score and are coming off Monday night's 34-7 thrashing of the Saints to
 take a commanding two-game lead in the race for the conference's best record.
 "For us to come out in that fashion and to win that game the way that we did
 was awesome," said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw three
 touchdown passes and won his 22nd game, tied for the most in the Super Bowl
 era in a quarterback's first two NFL seasons.
 The 49ers have started to pick up their play and have won two in a row after
 last week's 23-13 win over St. Louis. San Francisco quarterback Colin
 Kaepernick has recorded a 100-plus passer rating in each of the past two games
 and the 49ers are now 10-0 when he reaches that number.
 PREDICTION: 49ers 24, Seahawks 23
 Carolina (9-3) at New Orleans (9-3), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
 LINE: Saints by 3 1/2
 THE SKINNY: With two meetings in the next three weeks, the Panthers and Saints
 will battle for the top spot in the NFC South.
 "It's like you're getting the best of the best," said NBC analyst Cris
 Collinsworth. "You're going to see Carolina's defense, led by Luke Kuechly,
 going into the Superdome where we've seen everybody struggle to try and stop
 that offense with Drew Brees. It's going to be fantastic."
 Carolina has won a franchise-record eight consecutive games, including last
 week's 27-6 victory over Tampa Bay. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton passed for
 two touchdowns and rushed for another in that one, while Carolina's defense,
 which leads the NFL in fewest points allowed (157), limited the Buccaneers to
 206 total net yards and no touchdowns.
 The Saints, meanwhile, are 6-0 at home this season and Brees leads the NFL
 with a 122.2 home passer rating, which includes 19 touchdowns and only three
 PREDICTION: Saints 27, Panthers 17
 Dallas (7-5) at Chicago (6-6), Monday, 8:40 p.m.
 LINE: Cowboys by 2
 THE SKINNY: The Cowboys enter Week 14 tied for first place in the NFC East
 with Philadelphia, while the Bears sit a game out of first place in the NFC
 North behind Detroit with a 6-6 record.
 Dallas has won two in a row, including a 31-24 win on Thanksgiving over
 Oakland when DeMarco Murray rushed for a career-high three touchdowns,
 becoming the first Cowboy with three rushing TDs on Thanksgiving Day since
 1998 when Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith accomplished the feat.
 "We just need to keep winning games," said Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. "Our
 football team continues to try and improve each week and I think we're playing
 some of our best football right now."
 The Bears have been riding wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, who had 12 catches
 for 249 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime loss to Minnesota last week,
 his second 200-yard game this season.
 PREDICTION: Cowboys 21, Bears 16
 12/04 13:46:40 ET