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Rossi: Goodell must take aim at rampant mayhem

| Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, 9:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bengals running back Jeremy Hill is separated from Steelers players during the fourth quarter of their AFC wild-card game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI

As the dust settled on Part 3 of the Spaghetti Western that has become Steelers-Bengals, a battered-but-not-broken gunslinger should have stood tall early Sunday morning.

But Ben Roethlisberger isn't the gunslinger the NFL needs right now.

Roger Goodell is.

And the NFL commissioner should pay attention to how Roethlisberger and the Steelers exited stage left from Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night. Fast as they could after an 18-16 victory, everybody on the field with ties to the Steelers ran into the locker room.

No handshakes. No prayer circle.

Only running.

What, they were supposed to stick around and wait for a despondent (and drunken) fan to toss a trash can at them from the upper deck?

Those cans were the only ones not thrown during the fourth quarter, when the Bengals' understandably frustrated faithful made it rain with debris. Plastic cups, cardboard drink holders, hand warmers, ponchos and who knows what else …

Actually, we all know what else was tossed from the stands.

Batteries.

One hit Roethlisberger as a cart carried him off for evaluation and treatment of his injured throwing shoulder. Made sense then, that after he returned to lead the unlikeliest winning drive of his stellar career, Roethlisberger cut short a TV interview.

Even the gunslinger knows when to get out of Dodge. But usually the gunslinger takes his shot to fix things first.

Goodell should order an overhaul of officiating for all remaining playoff games.

That is his fix.

Goodell should do away with the so-called “all-star crews” and assign the four highest-rated officiating teams to the divisional games this weekend. His next act should be to publicly urge officials to eject anybody who crosses the line once inside a stadium.

Light up a defenseless receiver, and the lights go out on your privilege to play in the postseason.

Stray onto the field or touch somebody you shouldn't, and you're no longer coaching in the postseason.

Toss something from the stands — whether an empty plastic cup or a battery — and you no longer are among the privileged possessor of tickets for the postseason.

Don't play favorites, Mr. Commissioner.

Don't play around, either.

Your NFL is starting to look like English football once did.

Unruly. Dangerous.

The end to the Steelers-Bengals game Saturday night wasn't as weird as the fourth quarter was frightening.

I wasn't alone among reporters fearing a riot might break out. Nor was I alone in blaming poor officiating for an anxious crowd turning aggressive.

Officiating has been inconsistent — which is code for awful — all season.

But the NFL has been courting an in-stadium tragedy since its TV ratings-inspired decision to stage most playoff games in the late afternoon or evening. Once, the worry was fans withstanding subfreezing temperatures.

Now I'm wondering who in the stadium is safe if the powder keg blows.

Sure seemed like an uncontrollable environment Saturday night, a toxic mash of intoxication and negative energy with bad calls served up as the chaser.

On the field and in the stands, the NFL has a discipline problem.

More than embarrassing, it's becoming scary because nobody seems overly concerned about the worst-case scenario.

Maybe if fans started throwing allegedly under-inflated footballs at owners who were between the lines and trying to relocate players, and overmatched officials missed it all, the gunslinger in Goodell would re-emerge?

Or at least take aim.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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