Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey would have left Cleveland a hero — if he’d kept his feet to himself
If Cleveland’s Larry Ogunjobi is going to be suspended a game, though, for an unprovoked push of Mayfield to the turf after he’d been struck by Garrett, it’s hard to see Pouncey not receiving multiple games.Perhaps Pouncey’s penalty could have been mitigated because he was not without provocation; maybe two games would have been sufficient, and maybe that’s what an appeal would produce.The NFL declared in its statement that Pouncey had been suspended for “fighting.” That seems an erroneous description of what occurred. He was defending his teammate. If only he’d chosen a different approach. MORE: Mason Rudolph not suspended in Browns-Steelers incidentIt was that action, though, and the intent of that action, that warranted his ejection from the few seconds that remained of the Browns’ 21-7 victory over the Steelers, that almost certainly will lead to a suspension of some degree — in addition to the three-game suspension handed down Friday.Pouncey was a hero, until he wasn’t.“I will accept whatever penalty they will give me,” Pouncey told reporters after the game. “I was in protection mode.”Pouncey pursued Garrett after the Browns star pulled the helmet off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and struck him in the head with it. Rudolph, who was knocked unconscious and missed a game after being hit in the chin by the helmet of Ravens safety Earl Thomas, was fortunate to be hit by the open end of his helmet and not the crown, which could have resulted in severe injury.Pouncey was attempting to hold back Garrett when he swung the helmet.“At that point, it’s bigger than football. It’s protection,” Pouncey said. “He could have killed him. What if he’d hit him in the temple?”Indeed, there was no way for Pouncey to be certain that Garrett wasn’t loading up for a second swing, so his actions in punching Garrett and pushing him to the ground were justified, even laudable.That’s why he has been celebrated and defended by many in and around the NFL.On Twitter, Broncos lineman declared, “If your friends don’t have your back like Maurkice Pouncey … they ain’t your friends.”Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb tweeted that if someone struck quarterback Lamar Jackson with a helmet, “I swear it would be a riot at that exact moment.”Former Steelers running back Merril Hoge, who also was a longtime NFL analyst for ESPN, used Twitter to state that neither Pouncey nor Steelers guard David DeCastro should be suspended “or penalized at all.”DeCastro wasn’t ejected, though, and there was little public discussion about potential penalties for him before the NFL issued its ruling. And it might have been the same for Pouncey had he not taken that single kick at the finish.A kick to an opponent’s head — albeit an unhelmeted head, which resulted in a gash that required more than two-dozen stitches to repair — led to Albert Haynesworth receiving an unprecedented five-game suspension in 2006.Pouncey’s action did not resemble what Haynesworth did to the Cowboys’ Andre Gurode. Haynesworth was not defending a teammate, and he not only stomped on Gurode and caused his helmet to dislodge, but then took another kick that apparently caused the wound. And yet that visual of an NFL player swinging his foot toward another man’s head is going to have repercussions. The first punch was warranted. The second was reasonable. Everything was happening quickly, but it all was within the boundaries of what might be acceptable in defending a colleague, and maybe retaliating a little, following an assault that nearly was without precedent in professional sports.And then Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey chose to take a kick at Myles Garrett, and what could have been construed as an act of gallantry turned cheap and dirty. Fortunately for him, Pouncey is no Chris Boswell, and he made more contact with an opponent’s leg than the top of Garrett’s helmet.