November 24, 2011
The Detroit Lions were hoping Thanksgiving Day would herald their arrival in the upper-echelon of the NFL. All it did was burnish their reputation as the dirtiest team in football.
Star defensive end Ndamukong Suh(notes) was ejected from the game early in the second half after stomping on the arm of Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith(notes). The two had been engaged in a block on the previous play in which the Packers' lineman cleanly took Suh to the ground. When the second-year defender got up, he drove Dietrich-Smith's helmet into the turf and then stomped on his right arm while walking away from the play.
He was immediately flagged and ejected. The penalty resulted in an automatic first-and-goal for Green Bay. Instead of kicking a field goal on fourth down, the Packers were given a new set of downs in which they scored a touchdown to go up 14-0. Without Suh on the field on the next possession, the Packers threw for a 65-yard touchdown, effectively clinching the much-anticipated matchup between the top two teams in the NFC North.
[Related: Packers beat Lions, improve to 11-0]
Suh's move was unacceptable behavior for any player, let alone one who is supposed to be the cornerstone of a franchise. On the biggest stage of his young career, Suh threw a number of cheap shots, almost started a fight, handed an undefeated division rival four free points and got ejected.
The comparisons of Suh to the NFL's other infamous stomper, Albert Haynesworth(notes), began immediately, yet there's no indication that Suh and Haynesworth are anything alike (other than the fact that both played for Jim Schwartz when they were caught kicking). Suh is thoughtful, he's a worker, he got a big contract and continued to play hard, he does charity work without fanfare and he's a natural leader. He likes to cultivate a tough-guy persona and, up until Thursday, it was mostly harmless. Playing borderline dirty may not have endeared him to NFL fans, but as long as Suh was getting off the edge quickly and sacking quarterbacks, it didn't matter. He was on-field tough. Now he's on-field dirty.
He and the rest of the Detroit locker room may not care that they became the most reviled team in the country on Thanksgiving Day. They will care when they draw extra attention from referees, who will be on the lookout for more chippiness in future weeks. They'll care when Suh draws a huge fine and likely suspension for the stomp, hurting playoff hopes that were already wavering. And if they don't care that the supposed leader of their team isn't in control enough to stay on the field in the biggest game this franchise has seen in two decades, they should be.
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