Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett was suspended indefinitely without pay for his role in a melee in Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the NFL reacted with swift and harsh penalties one day after the ugly incident.
The minimum six-game suspension for Garrett, which would extend to the playoffs if the Browns advance, is the largest ever handed out by the NFL for a single-game incident.
Also suspended for their role in the fracas, notable for Garrett swinging a helmet at Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, was Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi (one game and a fine) and Steelers offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey (three games and a fine.)
The Browns and Steelers organizations also were fined $250,000 each.
Garrett released a statement Friday afternoon.
“Last night I made a terrible mistake,” the statement read. “I lost my cool and what I did was selfish and unacceptable. I know that we are all responsible for our actions and I can only prove my character through my actions moving forward. I want to apologize to Mason Rudolph, my teammates, our entire organization, our fans and the NFL. I know I have to be accountable for what happened, learn from my mistake and I fully intend to do so.”
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam issued a statement shortly after the NFL handed down the discipline.
“We are extremely disappointed in what transpired last evening at the end of our game,” the statement said. “There is no place for that in football and that is not reflective of the core values we strive for as an organization. We sincerely apologize to Mason Rudolph and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Myles Garrett has been a good teammate and member of our organization and community for the last three years but his actions last night were completely unacceptable. We understand the consequences from the league for his actions.”
The incident started after Rudolph dumped off a short pass. After getting knocked down, Rudolph appeared to grab at Garrett’s helmet before Garrett ripped off Rudolph’s helmet and, with Steelers’ offensive linemen attempting to intervene, hit the quarterback in the head with it.
“It was bush league,” Rudolph, who was uninjured, told reporters afterward. “Total coward move on his part. I get it. I mean it’s OK, though. I’ll take it. I’m not going to back down from any bully out there.”
Rudolph did not initially fall from the hit by the helmet, as he turned to officials with his hands raised, but Ogunjobi charged at him from behind and shoved him to the ground.
Meanwhile, Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro tackled Garrett, and Pouncey jumped on the pile, throwing several punches at Garrett before kicking at him once and throwing more punches.
After conferring with replay officials in New York, referee Clete Blakeman ejected Garrett, Ogunjobi and Pouncey. That made four ejections in the game, after Browns safety Damarious Randall was disqualified following a helmet-to-helmet hit that concussed Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson in the third quarter.
Before Garrett can be reinstated, he has to first meet with the commissioner’s office in New York. In addition to not being paid for the games he will miss, he was also fined an undisclosed amount.
In a statement, the NFL said that further discipline to players “will be forthcoming through the standard accountability process, including those players that left the bench to enter the fight area.”
The suspensions can be appealed within three business days.
The previous record suspension was five games in 2006 for the Tennessee Titans’ Albert Haynesworth after he stomped on the head of the Dallas Cowboys’ Andre Gurode and caused lacerations that required 30 stitches.
Rudolph called the incident both “cowardly” and “bush league.” Garrett expressed regret for his actions.
“What I did was foolish, and I shouldn’t allow myself to slip like that,” Garrett said after Thursday’s game. “That’s out of character, but a situation like that where it’s an emotional game, and I allowed myself to fall into those emotions with what happened.”
The most serious punishment for an on-field incident in NFL history was a five-game suspension in 2006, also for Haynesworth, after he stomped on the head of the Dallas Cowboys’ Andre Gurode and caused lacerations that required 30 stitches. Gurode did not press criminal charges or file a criminal lawsuit.