Steelers' Tomlin backs Harrison suspension

Ralph N. Paulk
| Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Steelers linebacker James Harrison appealed a one-game suspension the NFL handed down Tuesday, but his case took a hit when coach Mike Tomlin endorsed the punishment.

"He hit him illegally," Tomlin said of Harrison's helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy during Thursday's game at Heinz Field. "He has to suffer the consequences."

Harrison will not travel to San Francisco, where the Steelers (10-3) face the NFC West-leading 49ers (10-3) on Monday night with an opportunity to inch closer to an AFC playoff berth.

Harrison and his agent, Bill Parise, filed an appeal with the league shortly after it announced the suspension. The league is likely to rule on the appeal later this week, an NFL spokesperson said. If it does not, Harrison could play Monday.

"We have appealed, and we're going to go through the process," Parise said.

Harrison, who was fined four times last season, will forfeit nearly $75,000 with the suspension.

"I'm just going to move on from here and get ready for my next game," he posted on Twitter.

McCoy, who was diagnosed with a concussion Friday, scrambled and looked to pass with 5:59 remaining in the game and the Browns trailing, 7-3, when Harrison leveled him. The hit sidelined McCoy for two plays.

Tomlin said McCoy had taken off running a couple of times in similar situations, but he stopped short of excusing the hit.

"It's a foul," Tomlin said emphatically. "The quarterback just released the pass and is defenseless.

"Based on the guidelines the league has prescribed, he's a repeat offender. We have to suffer the consequences accordingly."

Harrison becomes the first player to be suspended under the league's enhanced player-safety rules that the NFL Players Association consented to under the new collective bargaining agreement. The agreement empowered commissioner Roger Goodell to fine or suspend players for helmet-to-helmet contact.

"I'm like just, take the shoulders pad and helmets off of us and let's call it NFFL: the National Flag Football League. That's where you're going right now," cornerback Ike Taylor told TribLIVE Radio on Tuesday. "People making these decisions about where we can't hit, show me what kind of football they played."

Harrison, who earlier this season missed four games because of an eye injury, is banned from participating in football-related activities at the Steelers' practice complex until the suspension is lifted Tuesday.

With the suspension looming, the Steelers could play San Francisco without several key starters, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (high-ankle sprain) and strong safety Troy Polamalu (hamstring), both of whom are listed as questionable.

Linebacker Jason Worilds is likely to make his fourth start this season at outside linebacker.

"We are disappointed, and we're disappointed for James because we know, quite frankly, how hard he's worked to play within the rules," Tomlin said. "Unfortunately, the incident happened, and it was a penalty. He has to be accountable for that."

Harrison's suspension comes almost four weeks since Tomlin and team president Art Rooney II met with Goodell to discuss the number of fines levied against the Steelers this season and what constitutes an illegal hit.

The Steelers have had 11 players fined or suspended this season. This is the first such incident for Harrison this season. Safeties Ryan Clark and Polamalu have been fined twice, including Clark's $40,000 fine for a late hit on Baltimore tight end Ed Dickson.

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