On a day when the Detroit Lions had their first relevant Thanksgiving Day game since Barry Sanders was on the team, not only did the team get crushed by the Packers in a far more convincing fashion than the 27-15 final score might indicate, the antics of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh could end up being the test case of future league punishment.
For those who were suffering from an early afternoon tryptophan-induced sleep and missed the Green Bay-Detroit game, they missed the latest chapter in the growing body of evidence that Suh is the dirtiest player in the NFL. He has been known for late hits, cheap shots and trying (often successfully) to rip on opponent's helmet off all in the name of a making a tackle.
On Thursday, Suh took his behavior to a new and disturbing level. Not since Albert Hayneworth intentionally sliced the face of Andre Gurode with a cleat has a player done something so maliciously intentional as Suh's assault of Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrick-Smith. Suh began his assault by driving Dietrich-Smith's head into the turf and then pushed his head down three times to lift himself from the ground. When he finally did get off him, he stomped on his right bicep with his cleats. Suh was called for a personal foul and ejected.
Following the game, not only did Suh not do a "heat of the moment" mea culpa as rationale for his behavior, he came up with a poorly reasoned explanation that made him look even worse, claiming he lost his balance and did nothing wrong.
In the past, the NFL has dealt with its cheap-shot artists with hefty fines, wanting to avoid penalizing an entire team because of the actions of a single player. Vikings fans will remember when Jared Allen was being discussed as one of the dirtiest players in the league – a charge Allen vehemently denied. He received some significant fines and was even called to the principal's office (in this case, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) to discuss his penchant for hitting defenseless quarterbacks in the knees.
Allen was able, to the satisfaction of most, convince them there is a difference between being a high-motor player and being a cheap-shot artist. Allen took ownership of his run-ins with the league police. Suh did exactly the opposite.
As a recidivist offender, Suh is not only subject to a fine, but given the nature of the attack on Dietrich-Smith, he could – and should – receive a multi-game suspension. What happened Thursday wasn't a helmet-to-helmet hit or taking advantage of a chance to deliver a kill-shot on a quarterback. This was borderline assault.
Goodell won't have a holiday weekend as he weighs the league's options. He has avoided suspending players for breaking the established rules. He has opted for fines, some heavier than others, to get his message across. Suh may well be his tipping point.
Expect Suh to be suspended for a minimum of one or two games and possibly as many as four. Given the Lions' tenuous hold on a wild card spot, losing their most imposing defensive player could result in the collapse of the team's 2011 season. It would be a shame to see a promising season go up in flames, but, for anyone who saw Suh's outburst Thursday, it's hard not to support the league drawing a line in the sand and turning the penalty for such actions to start including suspensions. If not Suh, who? If Suh isn't suspended, it may send the message than anything is allowable if you can afford to pay your way out of a suspension. That isn't a deterrent. Sitting Suh for four games (and potentially ruining the Lions' season) will send a much louder statement that such conduct won't be tolerated.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.