Myles Garrett lost his mind at the end of Thursday night’s Browns-Steelers game. That means Football America — including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — will lose theirs this weekend.
No one will be right.
With eight seconds remaining in what should have been a triumph for the Cleveland Browns — their second straight win kept faint playoff hopes alive — Garrett, the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, ripped off the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hit him over the head with it. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey retaliated by punching and kicking Garrett. Both were ejected from the game.
There are certainly going to be a wide range of reactions as the weekend progresses — we’ve already seen calls for Garrett to be indicted on assault charges and, of course, what about the children! — but there will be several ripple effects from this incident for various people involved.
What Garrett did obviously has no place in the game, and he rightfully received a multigame ban from Goodell swiftly on Friday. But in what has become the enduring legacy of his tenure, Goodell completely overreacted in the immediate aftermath.
Garrett was suspended indefinitely without pay — at a minimum for the remainder of the regular season and postseason — for several rules violations. Pouncey was suspended three games without pay, and Cleveland’s Larry Ogunjobi will sit for a game. Each of the teams was fined.
Rudolph, who escalated the incident by trying to rip off Garrett’s helmet, received no discipline.
This was typical of Goodell, a hero to overreactive Twitter followers everywhere since he botched the Ray Rice suspension. This incident happened on Thursday Night Football — Goodell’s baby — which featured ex-receiver Steve Smith calling for Garrett’s season to end on the league’s own network. It played far and wide on mainstream news sites. If there was ever a perfect storm for a trademark Goodell overreaction, this was it.
And he delivered.
The smart and prudent move for Goodell would have been to take the weekend and give it some air and perspective. Of course he didn’t do that. The only hope now is the inevitable appeal will restore some sensibility to the suspension and use precedent to apply a more apt punishment.
Is what Garrett did really that much worse than Albert Haynesworth using his cleat on Andre Gurode’s face, creating a wound that required 30 stitches to close in 2006? Of course not. The only thing that changed was the circumstances this time around, including media coverage and social media.
Those who are trying to extrapolate anything more from this than a momentary lapse of judgment by Garrett are just as wrong as Goodell.
Football is not a chess match; it’s not a pickup basketball game down at the Y. It is a game of violence. On every snap, players do what in normal, everyday life would be considered criminal, and they’re paid millions of dollars to do it. Suddenly, we should be appalled when one of those professional assaulters crosses a line? We should be surprised it doesn’t happen more often.
No one is condoning what Garrett did — he rightfully was suspended, is being ridiculed in public, and he could have cost his team any shot at the postseason. The incident will be attached to him for the rest of his career, and he’ll join the ranks of Haynesworth, Antonio Smith (suspended one regular-season game for swinging Richie Incognito’s helmet at him), and Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict (banished for the rest of this season after several on-field suspensions) as tarnished players.
But nobody’s perfect, especially professional violence inducers. Garrett temporarily lost his mind, expressed regret immediately after the game and will pay a very public price for what he did. This incident will follow him for the rest of his career.
It doesn’t have to be anything more than that, and it shouldn’t.
Garrett is not the only person who will be tainted by this deplorable incident, however.
■ Rudolph was not an innocent bystander in all this. He started the play by trying to rip off Garrett’s helmet at the end of a late quarterback takedown. Obviously he didn’t deserve to be hit on the head with his own helmet, but having it ripped off his own head was turnabout. Rudolph deserved some sort of discipline
■ Can’t fault Pouncey for what he did in protecting his quarterback. The kick was a bit much, but he was certainly in the right defending his teammate. Three games was excessive and should be reduced.
■ Just when it appeared Browns coach Freddie Kitchens had righted his ship, we got another reminder about how far out of his depth he is as a head coach. The Browns, who lead the league by a wide margin with 112 penalties in 10 games, have been an undisciplined mess going back to training camp, when their joint practices with the Colts were marred by several fights. Kitchens obviously has little control over his players, and 10 games into his tenure, it’s getting worse, not better.
— Baker Mayfield will be celebrated by the general public for his postgame comments on NFL Network, but they likely won’t play well in his locker room. “It’s inexcusable,” Mayfield said of Garrett’s actions. “The reality is he’s going to get suspended; we don’t know how long and that hurts our team and we can’t do that. We can’t continue to hurt this team. It’s inexcusable.” Did Mayfield speak the truth? Absolutely. But players walk a very fine line when they comment on the actions of their teammates, especially when those words could well work against Garrett when it comes to his suspension and, ultimately, his wallet. There are two things teammates never comment on: family and money. Some players in that locker room could look at Mayfield’s words, not as an example of great leadership, but the exact opposite: a player who, like in his TV commercials, cares more about himself and how he’s perceived by others outside the team than he is inside that locker room. No one will publicly acknowledge it, but this could be a problem for Mayfield going forward.
— And, finally, this game — which earlier saw two Steelers receivers knocked from the game with concussions after helmet-to-helmet hits (Browns defensive back Damarious Randall was ejected) — was just another in a long line of embarrassing incidents for the AFC North. Something has to be done to rein those teams in. The Bengals and Steelers had their latest ugly game with ejections in 2017, and the Ravens-Steelers matchups seemingly always have someone knocked out of them. Maybe it’s time to get the owners and coaches together in the offseason just to reemphasize that hard, tough-nosed football is celebrated, but too often this division has featured line-crossing games.
Thursday night was just the latest, regrettable example.
Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.