Ndamukong Suh's Dolphins debut doesn't wash away dirty debate

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Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
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LANDOVER, Md. – Ndamukong Suh was busy earning his new $114 million contract, busy shutting down the Washington rushing attack in the second half, busy helping the Miami Dolphins to a 17-10 opening-game victory here.

So maybe he really was oblivious to two plays that sent fans, commentators and social media into a frenzy and reignited the old Suh storyline, even as he's with a new team.

Let's start with a play in the second quarter. After Suh tackled Washington's Alfred Morris, he stepped over Morris' body and his shin hit Morris' facemask, knocking his entire helmet off. Morris rose and said something in Suh's direction. It didn't appear to be a pleasantry.

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The video quickly swept the Internet, analyzed like the Zapruder film and led to all sorts of stories wondering if Suh was already playing dirty in Miami the way he used to in Detroit. It also may have been an accident; this certainly wasn't anything particularly troubling. It was more a story because of his past, which featured multiple suspensions and some $216,875 in fines during his five years in Detroit.

Suh said he didn't know anything about it.

"No," Suh said. "I tackled him plenty of times during the game, so I'm not really certain what you are speaking of."

Then there was a play in the second half, when Suh got locked up with Washington's Morgan Moses. Both men got their hands up, but Suh managed to spin Morgan's helmet around. Morgan was forced to leave the game for a bit and early media reports said he got poked in the eye by Suh.

And the Suh-is-dirty spin cycle began again on a lot of quick-posting online sites.

Ndamukong Suh made an impact in his debut with the Dolphins. (Getty Images)
Ndamukong Suh made an impact in his debut with the Dolphins. (Getty Images)

"I don't know," Suh said when asked about it. For what’s it worth, Morgan actually said later the helmet was spun so violently the padding in the ear piece did the damage, not an eye poke.

"The only guy I saw get poked in the eye was my guy Shelby,” Suh said.

His guy Shelby is fellow defensive lineman Derrick Shelby, who was, indeed, sporting a rather nasty black eye after the game, proof that these things happen in a violent sport. Shelby didn't even know who poked him. It didn’t earn any in-game attention because whoever it was, it wasn’t someone with the reputation of Ndamukong Suh.

"It's something that happens all the time but no one calls," Shelby said. "And this" – he motioned at his swollen eye – "is the aftermath."

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This is also the reality of having Ndamukong Suh on your football team. Everyone in Miami might as well get used to it.

Sunday was just the first game since signing that big, six-year, $60 million guaranteed free-agent deal. In many ways, though, it was indicative of everything the 6-foot-4, 320-pounder brings to the franchise.

Statistically, there wasn't much, two tackles, one of them solo – his 36 sacks and 239 total tackles across five seasons in Detroit didn't leap out either.

Neither begins to describe his impact on the Dolphins' defense, especially Sunday against the run. After yielding 106 rushing yards in the first half, the Dolphins tightened up to allow just 55 in the second when the Washington offense was shut out, allowing Miami to win regardless of its own offensive inefficiencies.

"Definitely a difference maker," linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. "Pretty sure they were running the ball away from him tonight. He's a problem out there."

So you get the inevitable, did-he-or-didn't-he-play-dirty debate, which was almost a monthly storyline in Detroit.

To some, perhaps including the NFL, Suh has lost the benefit of the doubt. He's also pled ignorance before only to reverse course. In 2011, he denied slamming the head of Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith into the turf before stomping on his arm, only to later acknowledge he "made a mistake." The NFL suspended him two games for that one.

Redskins running back Alfred Morris tries to break free of Suh. (Getty Images)
Redskins running back Alfred Morris tries to break free of Suh. (Getty Images)

In last year's regular-season finale, Suh stepped on the calf of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and said it was nothing. The NFL suspended him one contest, the following week's wild-card playoff game, before softening the penalty on appeal to just a $70,000 fine.

So it goes. It's probably impossible for Suh to be as dominant as he can be on the field without playing with the rage that sometimes pushes his behavior over the edge. At this point, nothing is going to change. Miami went into this with eyes – and checkbooks – wide open.

"At the end of the day you have to accept the win, be happy about that, go home and make the adjustments you need to make," Suh said.

As is his way, Suh spoke afterward in a soft and thoughtful voice that belies his bulk. He's not a raging maniac then. He even had high praise for the guy he battled the most with during the game, Washington rookie guard Brandon Scherff. "A good guy," Suh said.

It's why Suh is impossible to put in a box. He acts differently than most players, but that doesn't always have to be a negative. He was, per usual, the first player off the field at the final gun, literally sprinting from the sideline to the tunnel while most other players mingle and visit briefly at midfield. Likewise, he was pulling his bag to the bus before some of his teammates had even taken off their pads – Suh rushing to get out of here even though there is only one team plane.

Which doesn't mean he doesn't care – he most certainly does, both about winning and about the other guys.

"He's a true mentor," said rookie defensive lineman Jordan Phillips, who recorded his first sack Sunday. "He helps me out every chance he gets. [It's] everything. He's smart. He knows exactly what he is doing and he knows exactly what he wants to do. If you just watch him you can tell how those things help him and how they can help you.

"He wants to win," Philips said. "And he feels if everyone is on his level we are going to win. And I agree."

So Miami is 1-0, the defensive line improved in real time, and everyone acknowledges that, while it was a long way from perfect, it was perfect enough. That's what you pay Ndamukong Suh for, that's what you get.

Debates about dirty play as he weekly walks the line between impolite and inappropriate is just part of the deal.

That's also what you get.