PITTSBURGH — The NFL’s increased emphasis on the taunting penalty has been a lightning rod for criticism through the first half of the season, but Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is a proponent of the rule and its enforcement.
“We’re just trying to clean our game up,” Tomlin, a member of the NFL’s competition committee, said Tuesday. “We embrace the responsibility that comes with being the role models that we are.
“This game being played at the highest level, we understand that people who play at a lower level watch us and often mimic the things we do and how we conduct ourselves and just largely as a league competition committee specifically, there was a desire to improve in that area. That’s been expressed to our guys.”
The Steelers have not been called for a taunting penalty this season, but they benefited from a critically timed flag in the 29-27 win against the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
Linebacker Cassius Marsh, a former Steeler, sacked Ben Roethlisberger on third down late in the fourth quarter. But after celebrating with a roundhouse kick, staring at the Steelers bench while walking in their direction and coming in contact with official Tony Corrente, Marsh was flagged for taunting, a 15-yard penalty that gave the Steelers a first down and eventually led to a Chris Boswell 52-yard field goal.
“I think that one was just bad timing. It’s pretty clear to everybody who saw it that I wasn’t taunting,” Marsh said. “I’ve been doing the celebration my whole career. It’s just sad to see stuff like that happen in a close game like that.”
In a pool report, Corrente justified the flag and said his contact with Marsh didn’t factor into the call.
“First of all, keep in mind that taunting is a point of emphasis this year,” Corrente said in a pool report. “And with that said, I saw the player, after he made a big play, run toward the bench area of the Pittsburgh Steelers and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them.
“I didn’t judge [the contact] as anything that I dealt with. That had nothing to do with it. It was the taunting aspect.”
Tomlin acknowledged that the call against Marsh was a learning opportunity for his players.
“We’ve been shown examples of that throughout team development,” he said Tuesday. “And we continue to reinforce that as examples in a negative way turn up through the course of journey, for us and for others.”
The Steelers coach has been a vocal supporter of the controversial taunting penalty enforcement this season, first addressing it before the Aug. 21 preseason game against the Lions.
“Not anything out of the ordinary,” Tomlin said on how he stresses the enforcement of the rule to his players. “That’s not something that we subscribe to or delve into. Nothing out of the ordinary. We’re appreciative of the league’s willingness to crack down on some of that.”
And in September, Tomlin also voiced his support of the rule. “I’ve been focused on the stadiums that we’re in, but all of us, to a man, acknowledged that’s something that needed to be addressed,” he said in September. “That’s why it’s a point of emphasis and that’s why none of us are surprised by the number being increased. The players will adjust. They always do. They’d better adjust quickly, and specifically speaking of mine.”