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This was uglier than a brawl. And Myles Garrett deserves suspension for rest of year after helmet attack.

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

The NFL should suspend Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett for the rest of the 2019 season, if not longer.

Garrett should accept it and count his blessings that he was off target when he violently swung a helmet at the unprotected head of Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph during a late-game scrum Thursday. Instead it was more of a glancing blow and Rudolph later reported he was “fine.”

If not for that bit of fortune, Rudolph would have been seriously injured and Garrett might be dealing with assault with a deadly weapon charges. Or worse.

The fit of unhinged ferocity came in the final seconds of the Browns’ 21-7 victory over the Steelers and was shocking even by football standards. There is no place for Garrett, a third-year pro and former No. 1 overall pick from Texas A&M, in the league this season.

“Absolutely, 100 percent [he should be suspended for the season],” said Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who came to Rudolph's defense and attacked Garrett after the incident. “We’ll see how serious the NFL is about player safety.”

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) hits Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) with his own helmet as offensive guard David DeCastro (66) tries to stop Garrett. (Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports)

Player safety is one thing. This was another, an over-the-top attack that went far beyond even the most ridiculous of football fights, where slapping each other in hardened helmets is par for the course. The game is dangerous enough. This was next level.

“What I did was foolish and I shouldn’t allow myself to slip like that,” Garrett said from the postgame locker room after being ejected. “It’s out of character … It could come back to bite me. I don’t know what kind of suspension I face.”

Earlier this year, the NFL suspended Oakland linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the entire season (12 games) for an intentional hit to the helmet. The severity of Burfict’s punishment came because he was a repeat offender who hadn't changed his style of play despite previous fines, warnings and suspensions.

Garrett doesn’t have that history, but this also wasn’t an in-game play. It was pointless and easily avoided after the whistle and altercation.

“It never should have gotten to that point, that’s on me,” Garrett said. 

Everything started after Garrett wrestled Rudolph to the ground after Rudolph had released a pass as Pittsburgh tried to mount a final drive despite trailing by two touchdowns.

Rudolph took exception to the hit and began tugging at Garrett’s helmet. Garrett then escalated it as two offensive linemen tried to separate the two players. 

Garrett was undeterred and grabbed Rudolph’s facemask, lifted him up off the ground and then wrenched the helmet off the QB’s head. That would have been bad enough.

As the shoving continued, though, Rudolph went after Garrett. That's when Garrett turned the helmet into a weapon and swung it violently at Rudolph’s head. He connected with the bottom of the helmet in a glancing blow. According to Rudolph, it didn’t injure him.  

“I’m good,” Rudolph said. “I thought it was pretty cowardly, pretty bush league.”

Garrett was then thrown to the ground by two Steelers before Pouncey jumped in, punching Garrett’s helmet and then kicking him. Benches partially cleared as the refs tried to restore order. Any number of players, including Pouncey, are facing discipline as well. 

“At this point, who cares?” Pouncey said. “My man got hit in the head with a helmet.”

Even hardened NFL veterans said afterward they had never witnessed such a thing.

“I’ve never seen that in my life,” Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens said. “I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good. He understands what he did and understands it’s totally unacceptable.”

While the Steelers and Browns are fierce rivals and the game was as heated and as intense as ever, there remains a brotherhood between players, even opponents. This is a game with a near universal injury rate, including those whose effects linger long after playing careers are over. 

As rough as things get, there is a code. Garrett went far beyond it. 

“That’s inexcusable,” Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield said on the Fox broadcast. “I don’t care, rivalry or not. We can’t do that ... that’s just endangering the other team. That’s inexcusable, he knows that.”

“He’s going to get suspended,” Mayfield continued. “We don’t know how long and that hurts our team. We can’t do that. We can’t continue to hurt our team.”

The game was a high point in an otherwise disappointing Cleveland season. It moved the Browns to 4-6, still ostensibly in the playoff race. Mostly it showed great progress from a team that stumbled in the face of huge expectations and had been criticized for undisciplined play. 

Now came the most undisciplined of them all, taking the joy out of a victory and likely costing them their best defensive player for an extended time, if not the year. 

“That’s kind of the history of what has been going on here lately, hurting yourself,” Mayfield said. 

Garrett, Rudolph and everyone else are lucky that the only thing that got hurt is Cleveland’s playoff chances. This was barbaric. The result could have been so much worse. 

Myles Garrett, in a fit of rage, tried to bludgeon an opponent with a weapon that could have done extensive, if not fatal, damage. This was no sports fight, no push and shove “brawl.”

To say there is no place for it in the game doesn’t even do it justice. 

There’s no place for Myles Garrett in the game, at least for this season.

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