Tempers are high right now for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and understandably so. They just watched their quarterback get assaulted by an opposing player with absolutely no justification or precursor to the incident. Myles Garrett claims to have lost himself in the emotions of the game as he used Mason Rudolph’s own helmet to strike a blow directly on top of his unprotected head.
Garrett was ejected for his conduct, and so too were Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who pushed Rudolph to the ground while standing behind him after he had been struck in the head.
The Steelers players pretty much unanimously have a clear opinion about what should happen next. Pouncey said he should “absolutely” be suspended for the rest of the season. “Absolutely. 100 percent. We’ll see how serious the NFL is about their players”, he added, putting the ball in the NFL’s court.
Defensive captain Cameron Heyward called Garrett’s action “one of the stupidest things I ever saw” and said that, “yes, hands down”, he should be suspended. “I told those other players on the other side, ‘y’all better handle that’”.
To their credit, the Browns by and large have disavowed Garrett’s behavior, and only Ogunjobi that I’m aware of had really come out to say that he was defending his teammate, who frankly should not have been defended for what he did.
“I know scuffles happen, but for it to get to a point where a guy uses a helmet as a weapon and hits a guy in the head, it’s uncalled for”, Heyward added. “That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. I told those guys on the other side they better handle that. He has to answer for that”.
Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva told reporters that “that’s not something that we can have in the NFL”. I’m only aware of one prior incident in which a player ever swung a helmet at another player, and that was not as egregious as this, nor as senseless. That was Houston Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith in Week Two of the 2013 preseason as he sparred with Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito. There wasn’t a clear replay—it wasn’t recognized during the broadcast, nor acknowledged—but he swings the helmet up toward Incognito’s face and may have made contact.
Smith was suspended for the next two preseason games and the first regular season game. I think the NFL knows that they can’t come down on Garrett with as relatively light a disciplinary measure as that, as there would certainly be pushback. The microscope is on them and how they handle this.
You have commentators from across the spectrum of the sport commenting on how they have never seen this before and many arguing that he should be suspended for the rest of the year. I think anything short of that is going to draw criticism.