Kevin Gorman: Browns’ Myles Garrett deserves severe punishment for role in brawl vs. Steelers
CLEVELAND – The talk will be about the wild finish, when Myles Garrett ripped Mason Rudolph’s helmet from his head in the final seconds and all hell broke loose between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
That was only the start of something more sinister, a melee where players from the AFC North rivals lost their minds and left the NFL with a black eye in its battle for player safety.
“Where did it cross the line?” Rudolph said, repeating a reporter’s question with a sarcastic smile and an annoyed laugh in his post-game news conference. “Maybe when he took my helmet off and used it as a weapon.”
Mason Rudolph, on where Myles Garrett crossed the line. pic.twitter.com/mKKZAnDJ2o
— Kevin Gorman (@KGorman_Trib) November 15, 2019
That moment overshadowed the Browns’ 21-7 victory over the Steelers on Thursday night, no matter how much Garrett wanted it to be another way, no matter how much this city wanted to celebrate a much-needed and monumental victory only two years removed from a winless season.
“A win is a win. I don’t think it’s overshadowed by what happens in eight seconds,” Garrett said. “What we did on the field of play for the first 59 minutes, that shouldn’t go unnoticed.”
What Garrett needs to realize is that what happened in the final eight seconds won’t go unnoticed. That puts pressure on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to act swiftly and decisively in disciplining Garrett. If not, the league risks losing credibility after professing to prioritize the protection of its players, especially quarterbacks.
A reminder: Rudolph suffered a serious concussion after a helmet hit to the jaw against Baltimore in October. Now, he had an opponent swing a helmet at his unprotected head.
Steelers QB Mason Rudolph reacts to being ask about whether Myles Garrett should be suspended by calling his hit “bush league” and “cowardly.” pic.twitter.com/2n9YfUgwi7
— Kevin Gorman (@KGorman_Trib) November 15, 2019
“At that point, it’s bigger than football,” said Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who “blacked out” and starting swinging at and kicking Garrett in the end zone. “He could have killed him.”
No wonder Pouncey said that Garrett “absolutely, 100 percent” deserves to be suspended for the remainder of the season. That might sound extreme, but this is a serious matter. So, the NFL can’t respond with a slap on the wrist. A one-game suspension is unacceptable, as it would allow Garrett to play against the Steelers when the Browns visit Heinz Field on Dec. 1.
“We’ll see how serious the NFL is,” Pouncey said, “about protecting players.”
A six-game suspension would be a crushing blow to the Browns’ season, yet precedent shows it might be merited. In 2006, then-Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth received a five-game suspension for kicking the head and stomping on the face of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode, an injury that required 30 stitches.
Whatever Garrett gets, he deserves. That he was apologetic afterward, calling his actions “embarrassing” and “foolish” and “out of character,” should have no impact. Garrett has been fined three times for $52,639 this season for controversial hits. That should be taken into consideration more than his contrition.
“Whatever they give us,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said, “we have to take it.”
This was a game where four players were ejected, including Garrett, Pouncey and Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi in the final seconds. Three Steelers left the game with concussions and did not return – two of them after absorbing helmet-to-helmet hits – and Browns safety Damarious Randall was tossed for targeting after his head shot left Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson with blood coming out of his ear.
And all anyone is going to talk about is what happened in the final eight seconds, instead of a milestone: The Browns defeated the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the same season for the first time, an accomplishment that took two decades to achieve.
“That is the bad part,” Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “Instead of feeling like we just won a game that we really needed – we talk about a singular focus and mindset – it feels like we lost.”
The game was all but over when Garrett and linebacker Joe Schobert converged on Rudolph as he threw a screen pass. Where Schobert stopped, Garrett wrestled Rudolph to the ground. They tangled on the turf, with Rudolph grabbing Garrett’s helmet, until Steelers linemen David DeCastro and Matt Feiler pulled Garrett off Rudolph.
That’s when Garrett yanked Rudolph’s helmet off, and the Steelers quarterback chased after him. Rudolph’s reaction to the scuffle only escalated matters, and he might not escape punishment. When Garrett swung the helmet, however, an ugly game suddenly took a turn for the worse.
“I think it was just one of those weird plays that set each other off,” DeCastro said. “The game’s over there. It’s unfortunate that it had to happen. The NFL has to take care of it. The NFL’s got its work cut out for them. They have to send a statement.”
That statement has to be severe, as a line was crossed when a helmet was swung at an opponent. That has to be unacceptable in the NFL, and stature or star power shouldn’t save Garrett from a season-ending suspension. What happened with eight seconds left hasn’t gone unnoticed. It shouldn’t go unpunished.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .