Myles Garrett took the brunt of criticism for his actions in the final seconds of Thursday’s Browns-Steelers game, and rightly so. The Browns’ defensive end deserved every bit of condemnation for ripping the helmet off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hitting Rudolph in the head with the helmet.
But while Garrett was clearly the biggest culprit in the melee, as evidenced by an indefinite suspension that means he can’t play until at least the 2020 season, he was hardly the only one who should escape blame. Rudolph himself helped spark the brawl when he tried to pull off Myles’ helmet as the two wrestled on the ground after he was tackled. After Rudolph couldn’t really budge the helmet, Garrett responded by grabbing the quarterback’s facemask and then ultimately pulling off his helmet and swinging it, landing a blow on Rudolph’s unprotected head. Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was also suspended one game for pushing Rudolph in the back and on to the ground after the helmet incident.
The other major offender here: Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who went after Garrett in a bid to protect his quarterback, but also went over the line. He punched Garrett several times, and after Garrett fell to the ground, Pouncey kicked Garrett in the helmet.
It’s not quite as egregious an action as Garrett took with Rudolph, but it was an over-the-line cheap shot nonetheless. Pouncey was slapped with a three-game suspension.
“The actions of the players involved were not something that should be part of any football game,” Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement. “Our players, coaches and everyone in the Steelers organization understand that we must always maintain composure, no matter what happens.”
Rooney is right. It’s one thing to stand up for your quarterback, which every offensive lineman would do. It’s another to engage in unacceptable behavior.
Nobody wins here. Not Garrett, not Rudolph, not Pouncey.
And not NFL fans, who deserve better.
MVP race heats up
A little over halfway through the season, and we’ve got ourselves a terrific competition for the NFL’s coveted MVP award.
Here’s how I rank the top five:
1. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks. He’s having a career year after signing a record contract in the offseason. With 23 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, Wilson has carried the Seahawks on his back to an 8-2 record and a shot at the NFC West title and a first-round bye.
2. Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens. He led the Ravens to the playoffs as a rookie last year and has Baltimore off to a 7-2 record with some breathtaking performances. He has 15 touchdown passes and five interceptions and leads all quarterbacks with 702 rushing yards and six touchdowns. That spin move on a TD run against the Bengals last week? Oh my goodness.
3. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers. We have come to expect greatness from the Packers’ veteran, and he is delivering it once more in a bounce-back season for Green Bay. With 17 touchdown passes and just two picks, Rodgers is thriving under first-year coach Matt LaFleur.
4. Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans. A remarkably gifted passer who has completed 70.2 percent of his passes and has 18 touchdowns and five interceptions, Watson has the Texans atop the AFC South. What happens in Sunday’s matchup against Jackson’s Ravens could have an impact on the MVP race.
5. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs. He missed two games because of a knee injury and has two losses this season, but Mahomes is still producing terrific numbers with 18 TDs and just one INT.
Catching a special moment
With the Jets clinging to a 31-27 lead over the Giants in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, Sam Darnold found rookie tight end Trevon Wesco open for a 15-yard completion on third-and-1. Wesco got up after the play to return to the huddle, but teammate Ryan Griffin quickly retrieved the ball and threw it to the Jets’ sideline.
“It’s one of those things that happened to me as a rookie,” Griffin said about making sure Wesco would keep a memento from his first career catch. “It’s something I wasn’t thinking about at the time, but it really meant a lot to me later in my career.”
Yes, football is about big plays. But it’s about the smaller, yet memorable times, too. And this certainly counted as one for Wesco, a fourth-round pick out of West Virginia.
“Those are special moments,” Wesco said. “Not everybody gets a chance to play in the NFL. It’s special.”
Griffin recalled his first NFL catch as a rookie with the Texans.
“It was Week 7 in 2013 against the St. Louis Rams, and it was a pass from T.J. Yates,” he said. “[Texans tight end] Owen Daniels got the ball for me so I could keep it. It just stuck out to me to make sure we keep that first ball for these guys.”
Wesco also had his first career rushing attempt in last week’s 34-27 win. He lined up as a fullback on fourth-and-1 in the first quarter and gained two yards.
Belichick vs. next-generation Groh
Bill Belichick and Al Groh have spent many years coaching together – with the Giants of the 1980’s, the Patriots of the early ‘90’s and the Jets of the late ‘90’s. On Sunday, Belichick will match wits against Groh’s son, Mike, the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
And there’s another Groh in Belichick’s life these days: Mike’s brother, Matt, is a Patriots scout.
“I’ve known Mike since Al was with the Giants, and then Matt played [quarterback for Chaminade] when we were on Long Island,” Belichick said. “I stayed in contact with Al, Matt, Mike, [Al’s wife] Anne through the years. Al has taught me a lot, and I’ve had a lot of great conversations with him about football and teaching and competition. And Matt’s done a great job for us here in the scouting department. I haven’t really worked with Mike, but he’s obviously a very accomplished athlete, quarterback and has had a good coaching career. So it’s a good, strong family.”
* Tom Brady is 42 years old and has expressed a desire to play until 45. Is he now extending that timetable to 47? That’s what his longtime trainer, Alex Guerrero has suggested. And Brady isn’t dismissing the idea. “I am going to keep playing as long as I can,” Brady told Jim Gray on his weekly Westwood One radio show. “We’ll see how long it goes. Easier said than done.”
* The Chiefs face the Chargers in Mexico City on Monday night, and the teams took different approaches to dealing with the high altitude of Azteca Stadium, which sits 7,349 feet above sea level. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn took the team to train at high altitude in Colorado during the week, while Andy Reid kept his routine the same in Kansas City. “We’re trying to keep it very similar to what we do, without change,” Reid said. “We’re lucky it’s here [in North America]; we’re not going to London.
* The 49ers got off to an 8-0 start, but their road to the playoffs isn’t a lock. Their second half of the season featured four of five games against winning teams. They lost at home to the Seahawks last week, and after facing the Cardinals on Sunday, they play the Packers, Ravens and Saints.