The end of Thursday night’s Browns-Steelers game was marred by one of the most inexcusable on-field acts of violence in recent memory. In the closing seconds of a 21-7 Cleveland win, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett came into the Pittsburgh backfield and tackled Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph—then the world exploded. As Garrett pulled Rudolph down to the turf, Rudolph swiped at Garrett’s helmet, seemingly trying to rip it off. Garrett responded by doing the same to Rudolph, but unlike the Steelers quarterback, the 6-foot-4, 272-pound defensive end was successful. Garrett tore the quarterback’s helmet from his head. Then he took the helmet and swung it at Rudolph, hitting him directly on the top of his head.
What began as a skirmish turned into a brawl. Garrett was tackled to the ground. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey began punching and kicking Garrett in the helmet. More players got involved and it took several minutes before the officials could corral both teams and put an end to the chaos.
In the end, the officials ejected Garrett, Pouncey, and Cleveland defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. All of those players will almost certainly serve suspensions, and the NFL will have to examine this tape like the Zapruder film to find out who else will face punishment. Albert Haynesworth received a five-game suspension after stomping on Andre Gurode in 2006 in what is arguably the most notorious on-field incident in league history. Garrett’s attack on Rudolph is close to being in the same tier.
Garrett will rightfully receive the brunt of the condemnation for Thursday’s chaos. Rudolph arguably provoked him, but Garrett’s actions were beyond the pale. In October, Rudolph suffered a concussion that seemingly knocked him unconscious, and he later confirmed that he could not remember the hit that ultimately sidelined him for three weeks. That Garrett took a helmet and smashed it into Rudolph’s unprotected head is unconscionable. (Rudolph said after the game that he is fine, calling Garrett’s act “cowardly.”) Garrett faces a lengthy suspension—and this act could define his career.
Following Thursday’s game, Garrett said he “made a mistake. I lost my cool and I regret it.” It’s not his first transgression. Earlier this year, the former no. 1 overall pick hit Titans tight end Delanie Walker across the face mask, and the NFL fined him. The NFL also fined him for two hits he had on Jets quarterback Trevor Siemian, one of which ended Siemian’s season with torn ankle ligaments. Garrett appealed all three fines, and said he wouldn’t change his style of play.
After the game, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield called Garrett’s actions “inexcusable” and freely admitted that he believes Garrett will be suspended. The Browns are 4-6 and after two wins in a row finally had something positive going for them—now their best defensive player will likely be out for a while. It was as inexplicable as it was dangerous.
Garrett will need to change something now, though, as will just about every other player involved in the fight. The NFL is already a violent league—but it has no place for what happened on Thursday night.