Given the manner in which the Myles Garrett assault on Mason Rudolph at the end of Thursday night’s game for the Pittsburgh Steelers largely overshadowed the fact that the Cleveland Browns won—multiple players said that it felt as though they lost—it’s not surprising that many may be losing sight of the number of incidents in the game in which Browns defenders illegal struck Steelers players, not all of which were legislated on the field.
The most egregious of those by far was the fact that third-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was hit in the head by multiple players on the same play, and no flag was thrown for those infractions. A hit to the head on Rudolph was flagged for roughing the passer on the same play, but it was just one of at least three illegal hits on the play.
It was also one of several times in which Rudolph was struck in the head, if not by a helmet, then by a forearm, at least enough that, if seen, would have warranted a penalty. Add to this list Larry Ogunjobi’s shove of Rudolph and the targeted, concussive hit Damarious Randall put on Diontae Johnson that left him bleeding—and Randall ejected—and the total package starts to look suspicious.
According to Mike Florio, there are those who did feel that way. In an article posted yesterday, he cited an anonymous source from another organization who told him that “that was like a bounty game. There were so many unnecessary flagrant hits, and then the cherry on top”.
Of course, it would not be the first incident in NFL history of bounties being used, and the person who orchestrated the bounty structure was, in fact, the Browns’ defensive coordinator and interim head coach just last year, meaning that he coached all of the players named in this article.
Personally, I don’t lean toward conspiratorial thinking, and I don’t think there was much of anything premeditated going on. I feel Garrett was probably trying to send a message with the final play in wrestling Rudolph to the ground even though the ball was out, but that’s about it. I don’t think there was any deliberate intention to injure.
But the uncontrolled way in which the Browns played, and have been playing, is reaching unacceptable levels. They are being penalized at absurd rates, and they have now had four players ejected from games this year, including three defensive players just during Thursday’s game.