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Myles Garrett lost his mind as the Cleveland Browns secured a 21-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football, and the only logical repercussion for the NFL is a season-ending suspension.
There was no reason for what happened during the final 14 seconds.
On 3rd-and-29 with no hope of a comeback, the Steelers attempted a screen pass. Garrett played through his block, hit Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and took him to the ground.
Chaos ensued. The quarterback became enraged by the needless takedown and started a skirmish. Garrett lifted Rudolph to his feet by his facemask. The helmet strap eventually gave way, but the defensive end didn’t drop the quarterback’s headgear. Rudolph then rushed Garrett, who was being pushed away by Steelers guard David DeCastro. Garrett inexplicably used the helmet as a weapon in retaliation and landed a blow to Rudolph’s exposed head.
The fight continued between Garrett and multiple Steelers offensive linemen, but the damage had already been done.
The actions Garrett took are heinous and unacceptable. This wasn’t simply a fight that broke out between rivals; Rudolph could have been killed had he been struck more significantly.
“I made a mistake. I lost my cool,” Garrett told reporters.
Rudolph called Garrett’s behavior “cowardly” and “bush league.”
What Garrett did is worse than the two most despicable on-field incidents the NFL has seen over the last two decades. Former Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth received a five-game suspension for purposely stomping Andre Gurode’s exposed head. Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict received the longest suspension stemming from an on-field incident in league history earlier this season when he went headhunting and hit a downed target, Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle, with the crown of his helmet. The length of Burfict’s suspension—which will ultimately turn out to be 12 regular-season contests—was the direct result of his lengthy history of infractions.
Garrett doesn’t have Burfict’s history, but whether he committed criminal assault became a very real question.
For now, the Browns and their most naturally gifted performer must go their separate ways because Garrett lost his right to play football this season.
“It’s inexcusable,” Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield told Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews when asked about Garrett’s actions. “Rivalry or not, we can’t do that. That’s endangering the other team. That’s inexcusable. The reality is, he’s going to get suspended. It’s inexcusable.”
Football is a team sport. It’s insular. From the moment anyone steps onto the field, they’re taught the value of the team over the individual. Those other individuals on the roster are your brothers. A locker room can be highly diversified yet tightly knit. In most cases, players will defend teammates to the ends of the Earth.
Not in this case.
Both of Cleveland’s star wide receivers denounced Garrett’s actions.
“Whatever happened, it was definitely disappointing and embarrassing,” Jarvis Landry told reporters.
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Odell Beckham Jr. added, “Yeah, it’s ugly. It’s not something we want in the NFL … You can’t have stuff like that.”
The Browns should be disheartened. Garrett took away what should have been a monumental moment in the franchise’s history and ruined it. Cleveland hasn’t had much to celebrate since the organization returned in 1999. The team hadn’t beat its two biggest rivals—the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens—in the same season until now. Instead of building on that momentum, the organization must deal with the fallout from Garrett’s freakout.
“We had five seconds left in the game…the biggest win for this team in a long time…never beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the same season since 1999 and now we have to talk about this,” Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens told reporters afterward.
Normally, a snide comment about the Browns being the Browns is necessary for whatever unnecessary self-inflicted drama the organization brings upon itself. But this wasn’t a team effort; this is an individual acting out of character and deserving of whatever the league hands down.
“Beyond ‘Wow!,'” a Browns source texted ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “I’m completely embarrassed about the situation. I have never been apart of anything like that. Unbelievable. For us to play as well as we did and for that to happen…disheartened.”
The action even drew ire from others around the league. San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk was quite direct in how he felt about what happened:
Obviously, Garrett is the primary culprit and should be dealt a swift and decisive blow regarding the rest of his season. But other punitive measures will be handed down since officials also ejected Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Rudolph might not be clear of punishment because of his actions. Pouncey will almost certainly receive some type of suspension after throwing multiple punches and kicks.
“At that point, it’s bigger than football,” Pouncey said, per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “It’s protection. … He could have killed him. What if he’d hit in him the temple?”
The Steelers center is 100 percent correct. None of this was necessary. Even so, all of the players involved in the incident will be under review by the NFL for possible suspensions, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Yes, tempers flare. Guys get frustrated. The game itself is about asserting one’s dominance over another alpha male. But a line exists. Garrett didn’t just cross the line; the line is so far in the rear-view mirror it now looks like a dot.
Meanwhile, both teams have to cope with the fallout with the playoffs remaining a possibility, even if those hopes a remote.
“It feels like we lost,” Mayfield told reporters.
The Browns did lose. They lost one of their best players for an undetermined amount of time. They certainly lost the respect of many fans and others around the league for their immature actions. They lost an opportunity to bask in a quality win over a hated rival. They lost a lot all thanks to Garrett’s moment of temporary insanity.
The NFL must send a clear message: These actions cannot and will not be accepted. The safety of the league’s players comes first. No one is above this standard, not even one of the league’s best young pass-rushers.
Garrett deserves to be punished to the league’s fullest extent—whether that’s a six-game suspension to effectively end his regular season or an indefinite suspension to cover a potential Browns playoff run.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.