In an effort to minimize the words to describe the legalized assault that transpired inside a grassy area bound by a white line and witnessed by millions, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told ESPN’s Lisa Salters, “[It’s] AFC North football.”
The humanity of one of these gladiators crumpling to the turf in what had every appearance at the time to be his last footsteps did not tamp down the brutality that would ensue.
An officiating crew, albeit unprotected but for flags and whistles, could not control the raging conflagration of a divisional rivalry through preventative officiating or penalties, and did not resort to ejection.
Vice president of football operations Jon Runyan, responsible for disciplinary action for game tactics he once employed, has manned the busiest office at 345 Park Avenue in Manhattan. A day after suspending a baby-faced star with a big heart that got caught up in the moment, “AFC North football” was indicted by suspending two players who participated in this so-called game.
Steelers receiver JuJu Schuster-Smith leveled Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict with an illegal blindside block. Because Burfict cannot avoid contact he cannot see, he is considered a defenseless player, and is protected from forcible blows to the head or neck. Schuster-Smith stood over the prone Burfict to pick up another foul for taunting. (Only one foul can be assessed, though.) Runyan issued the following statement to Schuster-Smith as grounds for the 1-game suspension:
You are suspended for the dangerous and unsportsmanlike acts you committed during the fourth quarter of last night’s game. Specifically, with 7:10 remaining, on a passing play to a running back, you lined up a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area. You then “celebrated” the play by standing over him and taunting him. The contact you made with your opponent placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury and could have been avoided. Your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player.
On the touchdown at the end of the same drive, Bengals defensive back George Iloka slipped into a role of a hockey goon and hit receiver Antonio Brown helmet-to-helmet. Brown is also defenseless as a receiver in the process of completing a catch. He also has the same head contact restrictions. Runyan wrote to Iloka:
On a play which began with 3:55 left in the game, you violently struck a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area. The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of “eliminating flagrant hits that have no place in our game” and has encouraged the League office to suspend offenders for egregious violations such as the one you committed last night.
The actions of both are part of an increased enforcement over “egregious hits” — a term not in the rulebook, but contact that is flagrant on its face and is particularly violent and injurious. In a video shown to all players in training camp, executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent laid out the point of emphasis in this area, essentially declaring a new sheriff is in town. As a result, suspensions for game infractions have ramped up significantly.
Both Smith-Schuster and Iloka can appeal the suspensions; such appeals are heard by former players Derrick Brooks and James Thrash. As of now, the appeal by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is still pending .
If the suspensions are upheld, Smith-Schuster will miss the game against the Ravens , and Iloka will be out for the game against the Bears.
We are in new territory: three suspensions from three separate on-field incidents in the span of one week of football.