Chaos erupted on the gridiron as the Pittsburgh Steelers were finishing their trouncing of the Cleveland Browns.
The two NFL teams lined up for another play in the dying moments of the fourth quarter on Cleveland’s home turf on Nov. 14. With 14 seconds on the clock, Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball to his quarterback, Mason Rudolph. He made a last second pass to running back Trey Edmunds before getting tackled by Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett.
Behind the play, Garrett and Rudolph were engaging in a wrestling match as two Pittsburgh players attempted to break them up. Moments later, Garrett ripped the helmet off of Rudolph’s head, causing the Pittsburgh quarterback to charge at the Cleveland defender in anger. Garrett then swung Rudolph’s helmet and hit him on the head with it. What followed was mayhem, as referees were throwing yellow flags and players from both sides shoved, punched and kicked one another. The fight dissipated soon afterwards, but the damage had been done.
Garrett, Pouncey (who kicked Garrett while he was down) and Cleveland defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (who attacked Rudolph after the scrum began) were all ejected from the game, but with only seconds left, it didn’t make much of a difference on the game’s outcome. The Steelers took it 21-7.
In post-game press interviews, Garrett took the blame for his actions.
“I lost my cool and regret it,” Garrett said. “I appreciate my teammates having my back, but it shouldn’t have gotten that far. That’s on me.”
Rudolph had a more hostile response to what went down.
“It was bush league,” Rudolph said. “It was a total coward move on his part. It’s okay. I’ll take it. I’m not gonna back down from any bully.”
Despite the controversy, Garrett stood by the intentions of his actions.
“I’m not going to do anything to try and hurt this team or take out any player outside the rule book,” Garrett said to Cleveland.com. “I’m just going to keep playing this game the way it’s supposed to be played and that’s violently but passionately.”
The following day, the NFL, according to their statement, suspended Garrett “without pay indefinitely – at a minimum of the remainder of the regular season and postseason – and must meet with the commissioner’s office prior to a decision on his reinstatement. He was also fined an additional amount. Garrett violated the unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct rules, as well as fighting, removing the helmet of an opponent and using the helmet as a weapon.” Currently, his suspension takes the cake for the longest suspension in NFL history for an on-field event.
He wasn’t the only one punished, as Pouncey received a three-game suspension and Ogunjobi is forced to sit out the Browns’ next game. However, the scrutinized Cleveland defender is looking to appeal his suspension in the hopes that the league will reduce it. According to ESPN, his hearing and verdict on Wednesday will be decided by league officers Derrick Brooks and James Thrash, who have successfully reduced suspensions in past seasons, a few days after he appeals. However, the suspensions the pair altered were for much fewer games, such as bringing down five game suspensions to three or reducing two game suspensions to one. Garrett argued in his appeal that a similar incident happened in the 2013 preseason between Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith and Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richard Incognito. During a play, Smith and Incognito began wrestling before Smith, in a near-identical move to Garrett, ripped off Incognito’s helmet and swung it at him, narrowly missing his head. Smith only got a three game suspension from the incident.
Former NFL coach Rex Ryan was incensed that Garrett was looking to reduce his suspension.
“This is not acceptable,” Ryan said on ESPN’s Sunday Night Countdown. “I don’t care who he is, how good he is, and for you to be appealing this – what? Are you out of your mind? Just do what the league tells you to do!”
Garrett’s controversial play style has been the subject of much media attention this season, such as punching Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker after a play ended in Week One. The following week, he tackled New York Jets quarterback Trevor Siemian, who fell awkwardly on his ankle and rendered him out for the season. While the take down was seemingly routine and didn’t warrant a penalty against Garrett, the incident was scrutinized further in light of his recent altercation.
The actions and attention given to Garrett has been widely debated and investigated. While it may have been unsportsmanlike of him to use Rudolph’s helmet as a weapon, occasionally tensions on the field heat up to a boiling point and spill over, especially in a full-contact sport. It may not have been right, but Garrett’s sentiments are understandable.