One of the most bizarre aspects of the sequence of events that culminated in Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett striking Mason Rudolph on the head with the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback’s own helmet is the simple fact that there was no prior provocation leading up to all of that. Both sides of the game have spoken to that effect.
And this was even a game that saw multiple players leave the game because of illegal concussive hits, and one player had already been ejected for such a hit prior to all of this going down. Yet it didn’t appear as though anybody on the field was really thinking about all of that once the melee started with about 10 seconds left in the game.
First it was JuJu Smith-Schuster who in failing to come up with a reception on third and four with over nine minutes to go in the second quarter would take not one but two hits to the head by Browns defenders, ending up concussed and lying on the ground. No penalty was called on either hit, though roughing the passer was.
Later, with about eight minutes to go in the third quarter, Diontae Johnson’s night would come to an end when safety Damarious Randall lined him up and hit him square in the head with his own helmet after failing to come down with a deep target.
This hit was determined to be egregious enough to warrant an ejection, which remains quite a rarity, but nevertheless, none of the players on the field seemed to hold much animosity over this incident, or carried it over into the game.
“Damarious was not trying to hurt anybody”, said Browns linebacker Joe Schobert. “I think even the Steelers guys, they know that. The refs were talking about it around the ball. Obviously, this is a safety-first league, they know he was going for the ball, but when stuff like that happens, they have to call it”.
Joe Haden is in his third season in Pittsburgh, but spent most of his career with the Browns. “It’s a rough game that is played”, he said after the game, regarding the actual football-related hits that took place. “That shouldn’t mean it happens, it is what it is. But that just happens”.
What came later between Garrett and Rudolph, and then Maurkice Pouncey, is the stuff that doesn’t “just happen”. And yet, on a night that seemed to be rife with moments for tension to rise, those prior incidents didn’t seem to have much if any role in the flareup that ultimately drew national attention.
Pouncey himself said of the other incidents in the game, “that is part of football…That’s not the first time that’s happened. We can’t say that was” what set things off. “This was just sporadic. It was out of the blue”.