Harrison awaits repercussions from hit

Steelers defender James Harrison talks to the referee after being flagged for hitting Browns quarterback Colt McCoy during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field Thursday.
Steelers defender James Harrison talks to the referee after being flagged for hitting Browns quarterback Colt McCoy during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field Thursday.
Ralph N. Paulk
| Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011

In the aftermath of the Steelers' sluggish 14-3 victory over Cleveland on Thursday night, an unapologetic James Harrison was somewhat perplexed about the roughing-the-passer penalty he incurred late in the fourth quarter.

Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy left the pocket to complete a pass to Montario Hardesty with 5:59 to play and the Browns trailing, 7-3. Harrison delivered a vicious helmet-to-helmet blow that left McCoy stretched out on the cold, ragged Heinz Field turf.

The penalty tacked on 15 yards, placed the ball on the Steelers' 19 and positioned the Browns to steal a rare victory in this one-sided AFC North rivalry. But five plays later, cornerback William Gay intercepted a hurried pass from a disoriented McCoy.

Harrison isn't likely to escape the wrath of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell when league officials deliberate next week to consider either a fine or suspension -- or both.

"From what I understand, once the quarterback leaves the pocket, he's a runner," Harrison said. "All the 'defenseless' liberties a quarterback has in the pocket are gone.

"You can tackle him just as if he's a running back. The hit wasn't late, so I really don't understand why it was called. We'll see what transpires later on in the week."

According to a league spokesman, Harrison's hit on McCoy probably will be reviewed early next week to determine whether referee Ed Hochuli's crew erred in penalizing Harrison for illegal contact to the head - a rule change tweaked specifically to protect "a passer who is in a defenseless posture."

Harrison clearly made contact with McCoy's helmet as he torpedoed his 255-pound body into the Browns' quarterback, who was exposed after releasing the pass. McCoy, who later complained of concussion-like symptoms, said he couldn't remember Harrison's hit. He was visibly dazed as he walked through the stadium corridor prior to his postgame interview.

Harrison and his agent, Bill Parise, are preparing for Goodell to deliver the next blow in a verbal sparring match that began when Harrison publicly ridiculed the commissioner during the NFL lockout for insinuating he's a dirty player.

However, it's Harrison's past that appears to give Goodell leverage to issue a significant fine. The All-Pro linebacker was fined more than $100,000 for three incidents last season, including a helmet-to-helmet blow to Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

"There was nothing dirty about that (McCoy) hit," Parise said Friday. "There was nothing malicious about it. It was nothing more than a great player making a great play.

"I don't think anyone watching (Thursday) night - including the league office - feels that was a flagrant hit. It's just football. It was a tenth of a second between (McCoy) releasing the ball and James hitting him."

Parise acknowledged that he and Harrison exchanged text messages yesterday, but declined to say if their conversation centered on how they will move forward if the league opts to fine Harrison.

"There are a couple of issues here," Parise said. "The (league) will look at the tape, and I would want to hear what they say before James and I make a decision.

"I'm certainly willing to appeal. Right now, we're all sitting here saying, 'What if?' I think it's proven that appeals are basically worthless."

However, Parise convinced league officials last season to reduce two of Harrison's fines.

It may not factor into Goodell's decision, but the Steelers are among the most heavily fined teams in the league this season. Safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu have both been fined twice this season, including Clark's $40,000 fine for his Nov. 6 hit on Ravens tight end Ed Dickson.

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Steelers vs. Browns December 8, 2011

Steelers vs. Browns  December 8, 2011

The Steelers defeat Cleveland, 14-3, Thursday, December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field.

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