Along with the rest of America, I saw the play on Thanksgiving. Unlike the majority of ESPN viewers, I don't think Tomlin was trying to influence the game. But that is debatable by anyone with eyes and a motivation to comment on the play. On a play like this third quarter incident, where the player or coach has his back turned and takes no discernable action toward a player, you just don't know if his goal was to impede the player unless you can see into his head.
Tomlin is generally a good coach in my opinion, and he accepted responsibility. Additionally, he doesn't make a clear jabbing motion, and he does actually dart out of the runner's path. Finally, he doesn't strike me as the kind of fellow to do this thing. There are coaches I loathe out there. Sean Payton, Rex Ryan, the Harbaughs, and Jim Schwartz would not shock me if they emerged as "trip artists" or instructed their players to do the same. But Tomlin isn't on that list.
That said, Tomlin most certainly should be fined. Ironically, tripping is the competetion committee's worst nightmare, and it is a scenario that Flacco himself dredged up last season by insinuating his teammates should have come off the bench to trip Ted Ginn on the free-kick return in SB XLVII. Absent a Flacco-like sound byte, it's still in the NFL's interest to levy a fine. Tomlin's incident is one of those situations where it doesn't matter whether you can ascertain intent. The NFL cannot prove intent, nor should they have to prove intent. A stiff fine is a line in the sand. It will remind other coaches to keep off the field, and it will prevent other similar incidences from happening. The only thing that should separate this from Sal Alosi and "Wall-gate" is how it is framed by the media.
So, about that fine? A $100,000 team fine and a $25,000 coach fine are the precedent. And they aren't nearly enough. The situation is that important, because interference undermines the fabric of a twenty-two man competition. Currently, there really is no fine or penalty system in place to stop players from interfering. It doesn't take a mssion control team of scientists to deduce that, given how important each NFL game is, players and coaches will be presented with some situations where $100,000 is short incentive to to refrain from tripping a runner and influencing a game's outcome. Sacrificing a half-week's salary and a 15 yard penalty could be better than relinquishing a game deciding touchdown. Sure, it is possible for a referee to award a TD to a team on the spot following a palpably unfair act that prevented a touchdown. Yet, referees are often reluctant to influence the outcome of a game, and they do not have the time to get into the kind of judgments that something like Tomlin's actions or the Sal Alosi "wall" eventually required. The penalty should be something drastic, and it should be able to be awarded ex post facto.
If I were the NFL I would get ahead of this and start talking about serious ramifications for interference of this nature. I would start this offseason at the owners' meetings. In a few seasons we've had Flacco's comment, Tomlin's "whatever-it-was," and the Jets' obvious tripping tactic. None of it has amounted to anything much in terms of punishment, even if Sal Alosi was given a soft pink slip and allowed to resign from his position in New York.
Instead of micro-scrutinizing the angle, height, and velocity in which a defensive player approaches his opponent in attempt to glean whether or not they were trying to injure or just tackle them, Goodell should craft some rules that make sense and open a discussion that nips this behavior in the bud. I'm talking about year suspensions, forfeited draft picks, and vacated wins. The NFL has rather broad powers to penalize teams after a game, but only after a hearing. A structured and referenced commisioner's policy, like the policy for the review of illegal hits, would circumvent a team's ability to defend itself and clarify the stakes in becoming the twelfth man.