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Unprecedented punishments are appropriately harsh to Garrett, Pouncey, the Browns, and the Steelers

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Three players are suspended and both teams have been fined a half-million dollars in total after a freakishly violent end to the Thursday night game between the Steelers and Browns. The announcement came about 12 hours after the game went final, which is faster than any punishment in recent memory.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett committed the worst on-field offense ever witnessed in 100 seasons of the NFL, which could in a prosecutorial sense be assault and battery, but to the confines of the NFL rulebook it was “using the helmet as a weapon.” Garrett removed the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hit him in the head with it. Rudolph’s agent has not ruled out that criminal charges would be sought.

Garrett was suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season, including the playoffs. Officially, he’s listed “indefinitely” suspended, which requires reinstatement by the commissioner during the offseason, which could extend the suspension into the 2020 season. Additionally, in a statement issued by the league, Garrett is also fined an unspecified “additional amount,” which goes beyond the usual measures; while the league’s disciplinary schedule lists “fines and/or suspensions” for flagrant violations, it has invariably been either, but in this case, it is both.

Beyond that, the swinging of the helmet with a clear intent to injure will become the indelible image of what should be the NFL’s centennial season celebration and will be forever invoked any time Garrett’s name comes up, no matter what he accomplishes.

Steelers offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey was also suspended for three two games for punching and kicking Browns players in the fight. [Update 11/21: Pouncey’s suspension was reduced from 3 games to 2, plus a previously undisclosed fine of $35,096 was upheld.] This is a significant punishment in itself, and is buried by the lede. In the first 90 seasons, the NFL suspended two players for multiple games for an on-field infraction; there have been seven such suspensions in the last decade, listed in the table below.

Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi was also suspended for a game for shoving Rudolph to the ground after Rudolph was hit by Garrett.

All three suspended players were also ejected with 8 seconds remaining in the game. In addition to the ejection for a hit on a defenseless player by Browns safety Damarious Randall earlier in the game, there have been 17 ejections this season so far (including 4 in preseason).

There is an expedited appeal process for all three players, although in Garrett’s case, it looks like an appeal would be unsuccessful, especially considering that his return is at the mercy of the commissioner. Those appeals are handled by former players James Thrash and Derrick Brooks, and should be completed by Tuesday.

[Update 11/21: Garret’s and Ogunjobi’s suspensions were upheld; Poucey’s was reduced to 2 games.]

As is typical for any disciplinary measure, suspensions are handed out a day after the game where the infraction occurred, but potential fines are then reviewed under the normal midweek procedure. This will include Rudolph for his involvement, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, as Rudolph yanked Garrett’s helmet in scuffle at the end of the play.  It also may include other players, particularly for those who came off the bench and entered the fight area.

Adding to the unprecedented nature of this situation, the league fined both teams $250,000 each.

Early in the season, Raiders defensive lineman Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the 2019 season for repeatedly violating player-safety rules, which nets out to 12 games. Garrett’s suspension is the harshest for a single incident on the playing field, after the 5-game suspension served by Albert Haynesworth in 2005. Haynesworth was suspended for removing the helmet of Cowboys center Andre Gurode and scraping his cleats across Gurode’s face.

Multiple-game suspensions of NFL players for game infractions

Player Team Season Suspension Reason
Vontaze Burfict OAK 2019 12 games* flagrant lowering helmet to initiate contact, numerous past infractions in a continuous span (ejected via replay)
Myles Garrett CLE 2019 6 games* removing a player’s helmet and using it as a weapon; indefinite suspension (ejected)
Albert Haynesworth TEN 2005 5 games stepping on face of prone, helmetless player (ejected)
Vontaze Burfict CIN 2017** 3 games‡ blindside block/unnecessary roughness with prior suspendable infractions (no penalty)
Vontaze Burfict CIN 2015† 3 games multiple infractions of defenseless player hits (no penalty)
Maurkice Pouncey PIT 2019 2 games‡ punching and kicking (ejected)
Brandon Meriweather WAS 2014** 2 games defenseless player hit, multiple prior illegal hits (prior suspension reduced 2 to 1 game on appeal)
Ndamukong Suh DET 2011 2 games stomped on prone player  (ejected)
Charles Martin GB 1986 2 games slamming quarterback long after pass thrown (ejected)
Antonio Smith HOU 2013** 1+ game § using a helmet as a weapon, but no contact (no penalty)

*Remainder of the 2019 season, including postseason (neither team made playoffs). **preseason. †postseason, served in 2016.
‡Appeal reduction: Burfict (2017) from 5 games to 3, Pouncey 3 games to 2.
 §1 regular season game and 2 preseason games, but loss of 1 game check.
Sources:  So You Think You Know Football?,  Football Zebras  research


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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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One thought on “Unprecedented punishments are appropriately harsh to Garrett, Pouncey, the Browns, and the Steelers

  1. It seems to me that the NFL has treated this appalling incident correctly after the fact. I don’t understand the big groundswell from the “suspend Rudolph too” crowd, since Rudloph neither started nor ended the incident, and he reacted because he was being held down in a situation where he didn’t know whether the clock was running out or not. I have no idea what those people expected him to do in this situation.

    But from a game officiating perspective, I have to wonder why this wasn’t flagged for roughing the passer, since Garrett clearly took Rudolph down roughly behind the play after the ball was gone. And why the officials didn’t step in faster as Rudolph was being bulldogged into the ground by Garrett. I know that the refs, like pretty much everyone else in this situation not named Mason Rudolph, just want the game to end, but it seems to me that more attention to what was going on behind the play here could have possibly have stopped this whole incident before it escalated.

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