Let’s begin by acknowledging there’s serious harm inherent in a sport when large virile men with incredible speed and power collide.
There is enough opportunity to inflict injury in the NFL in the most routine ways that the sport needs not condone the special brand of lunacy that transpired at the end of Thursday night’s Steelers-Browns game in Cleveland.
We assume you have seen it by now? Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the top overall pick in the 2017 draft, ripped off the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and then struck him in the head with it setting off a wild brawl at the end of the Browns’ 21-7 win.
It was almost hard to believe, certainly to understand. An angry Rudolph seemingly provoked him, but what could have angered Garrett so much that he used something designed to protect to possibly seriously injure another player?
Frankly, Rudolph was lucky he was hit by the padded underbelly of the helmet as opposed to the crown that could have done so much more damage.
A great frenzy followed Garrett’s actions. Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi pushed Rudolph from behind to the ground. Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro jumped in as the benches cleared around them. It was chaos.
“I thought it was pretty cowardly,” Rudolph said. “Pretty bush league.”
The NFL did not wait long to weigh in. Heeding the call for Garrett to be severely punished, the league announced an indefinite suspension without pay to last the remainder of the regular season and postseason. Any reinstatement will be at the discretion of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We are extremely disappointed in what transpired last evening at the end of our game,” the Browns said in a statement said. “There is no place for that in football and that is not reflective of the core values we strive for as an organization. We sincerely apologize to Mason Rudolph and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Myles Garrett has been a good teammate and member of our organization and community for the last three years but his actions last night were completely unacceptable. We understand the consequences from the league for his actions.”
The league also fined both teams $250,000, suspended Pouncey for three games and fined him and benched Ogunjobi for one game and fined him. The league also said there likely would be “additional discipline for other players will be forthcoming.” That would likely refer to those players who left the sideline to join the fight.
This was the second time this year Garrett had been involved in a violent encounter with a quarterback. In the second game of the season, he encased defenseless Jets quarterback Trevor Siemian in his arms and impaled him into the turf at MetLife Stadium.
The hit left Siemian with season-ending torn ankle ligaments. Garrett was fined $42,000. After the game, the media asked him I he considered himself to be a dirty player.
”I know who I am and the guys within these walls know who I am and that’s not me,” Garrett said. “I’m not going to do anything to try and hurt this team or take out any player outside the rule book.”
To be truthful, it has been a very physical game, a textbook AFC North matchup between two bitter rivals. A pair of Steelers receivers had been forced from the game after violent hits from the Browns secondary. Browns safety Damarious Randall was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Diontae Johnson that resulted in Johnson leaving with a concussion.
But this all began so innocently. Rudolph completed a short pass to one of his running backs and was quickly dumped to the ground by Garrett. From the looks of it, it appeared Rudolph was initially trying to pry Garrett’s helmet off while they were grappling on the turf. He also used one of his feet to push the defender away.
Once on their feet, Garrett ripped off Rudolph’s helmet and avoided the grasp Steelers guard David DeCastro to hit the quarterback on the head.
It was interesting to hear Garrett’s reaction after the game.
“What I did was foolish, and I shouldn’t allow myself to slip like that,” Garrett said. “That’s out of character, but a situation like that where it’s an emotional game, and I allowed myself to fall into those emotions with what happened.”
He actually thanked his teammates for having his back. But it reality, they were just as appalled as everyone else because they understood what a foolish and dangerous act it was.
Browns coach Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield quickly expressed their displeasure. Kitchens called it embarrassing. Mayfield called it unacceptable. Even Odell Beckham Jr., referred to it as dumb.
“Of course that’s not who we want to be at the end of the game,” Kitchens said. “That’s not who Myles wants to be. That’s not who we’re gonna be. You have to be able to maintain your composure in times like that and under no circumstance do we want anything to do with anything like that.
“I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good.”
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden played seven seasons with the Browns.
“Myles is a good dude,” Haden said. “I mean, I’ve never seen him act like that or do anything like that on what happened. But that’s not OK.”
While the NFL has taken action, the agent for Rudolph, Tim Younger, told ESPN that he hasn’t ruled out legal action against Garrett and the Browns.
“I am gathering all information and no options have been removed from the table,” Younger said. “There are many risks an NFL QB assumes every snap taken on the field. Being hit on your uncovered head by a helmet being swung by a 275-pound DE is not one of them. Tonight could have had a catastrophic ending.”