The issue won't go away, and so it was no surprise that it was the first question asked at Mike Tomlin's weekly news conference today. But based on Tomlin's handling of that first question, and the follow-ups, it's old news to the Steelers.
For the Steelers it all began back on Oct. 18, the day after their game against the Cleveland Browns, when the NFL levied an unprecedented $175,000 in fines to three players, one of whom was James Harrison. And more than a month later, Tomlin still was getting asked for his reaction to fines issued by the league.
This time it was because late on Monday afternoon, it became known that Richard Seymour had been fined $25,000 for what one reporter at the news conference referred to as a "sucker-punch" of Ben Roethlisberger, which followed a touchdown pass giving the Steelers a 21-3 lead late in the first half of last Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.
"None. I don't have a reaction," said Tomlin in answer to that first question. "I tend to focus on the things that are relevant to our team moving forward with the things that we can control. That doesn't fall into either category. That is really between Richard Seymour and the NFL office."
True, but there are a lot of people watching this as well, everyone from players and coaches throughout the league, to the members of the media who cover the sport, to the fans who have made football the current national pastime.
Alex Marvez, a senior NFL writer for FOXSports.com who has covered the league for the past 16 seasons and is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, attended the game against the Raiders at Heinz Field. Marvez filed a story several hours after the 35-3 outcome became final that carried the headline: "Pittsburgh Steelers done wrong by NFL."
"Seymour should be forced to miss next Sunday's home game against Miami and pay a six-figure fine for such a blatant disregard of the rules," wrote Marvez. "If that doesn't happen, it would add to the belief inside Pittsburgh's locker room that the Steelers are being unfairly targeted by the NFL as part of the league's player-safety push. Trust me: The Steelers have every reason to feel paranoid after Sunday's officiating debacle."
But Tomlin wasn't going there in any way, shape or form. No conspiracy theories, no criticism of the officiating.
"I know that there has been some heated reaction from players around the league on how the games have been officiated and so forth, but in terms of the league being in transition or potential transition in that phase, that is not a question for me to answer," said Tomlin. "Emotions always run high during the course of the football season, particularly when you push through the latter part of November. Guys are fighting for spots, there is going to be some competitive spirit involved. Very rarely do I view guys pleased with officiating when it doesn't go your way. Such is life. We are not going to worry about those things. What we are going to do is prepare ourselves for the challenge that is in front of us this week."
In last Sunday's game, part of that challenge came in the form of overcoming a franchise-record 163 yards in penalties. Tomlin, like most NFL coaches, believes that being highly penalized is a detriment to winning, but he also seemed to be unwilling to allow talk about penalties to side-track his team.
"We are not going to worry about the number of penalties or what was called," said Tomlin. "I still believe the core of the statement I made following the game. We are not going to get overly concerned about the penalties or the nature or the state of the NFL in terms of how things are being officiated. All we are going to simply do is play the game extremely hard, play it is as fairly as we can, play within the rules and play to win.
"Those are the things that are at the forefront of my mentality. Those are the things that I want at the forefront of the team's mentality. Those are the things that we can control. So we are going to stay with it there. Penalty flags are going to get thrown every now and then, some of the times it's going to be our fault, believe it or not, but we are going to move on and continue to play."
In other news, Tomlin said Ramon Foster played well enough to retain the starting right guard spot. Foster replaced Trai Essex in the starting lineup for the game against the Raiders in a move Tomlin described as performance-based.
"He wasn't perfect but none of us were," said Tomlin about Foster vs. the Raiders. "We like the intensity. We like the physical presence that he provided. We liked the way he and Flozell worked together. We will push forward. Again we are not going to be bashful about what we expect from our guys. We are trying to fight and win football games. We want guys to play well. We believe that we have a bunch of guys who are capable of playing winning football for us so when given an opportunity. We expect them to deliver, and I thought that he did."