The end of a Thursday night game between the Steelers and Browns was absolute mayhem. There was a brawl that had players on both teams ejected and resulted in three suspensions. But it was more than that because of the unprecedented action that started the fight.
With five seconds on the clock, and the Browns up 21-7, Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett ripped the helmet off of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph at the end of a play. He then used that helmet as a blunt weapon. He swung it at Rudolph’s head, connected, and started a bench-clearing brawl near the end zone.
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey punched and kicked a downed Garrett in retaliation. He was joined by his fellow offensive linemen in striking Garrett after he was wrestled to the ground. Then both teams got involved and it got even messier:
This is all ugly pic.twitter.com/9WQzcjZCCj— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 15, 2019
Garrett, Pouncey and Larry Ogunjobi were the players ejected on the play. You can see Ogunjobi push Rudolph after Garrett hit the quarterback with the helmet.
Not that it excuses anything, but Garrett’s anger can likely be attributed to Rudolph apparently trying to pull off his helmet prior to the brawl:
What is Mason Rudolph trying to accomplish with this, though? pic.twitter.com/uQGupFrODm— Sports Nation Ohio (@SN_Ohio) November 15, 2019
All three ejected players faced discipline from the league in the fight’s aftermath. Garrett was suspended indefinitely before being reinstated in February after meeting with league officials. His punishment covered six games and a decent chunk of the offseason.
Ogunjobi was barred for one game. Pouncey was originally suspended for three games, but had that number reduced to two after appealing the decision.
What the Browns said after the game
Speaking to Erin Andrews after the game, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was quick to condemn the whole thing.
“I didn’t see why it started, but it’s inexcusable,” Mayfield said. “I don’t care, rivalry or not, we can’t do that. That’s kind of the history of what’s been going on here — hurting yourself — and that’s just endangering the other team. It’s inexcusable. [Garrett] knows that. I hope he does now. It’s tough.”
Mayfield was blunt when saying what it means for Garrett and the Browns going forward.
“The reality is, he’s going to get suspended. We don’t know how long, and that hurts our team. We can’t do that. We can’t continue to hurt this team.”
Baker Mayfield to Erin Andrews after the game: “It’s inexcusable. Rivalry or not, we can’t do that. That’s endangering the other team. That’s inexcusable. The reality is, he’s going to get suspended. It’s inexcusable.”pic.twitter.com/QfaTUxrhmR— Will Gavin (@WillGav) November 15, 2019
Browns coach Freddie Kitchens was clearly upset in the postgame press conference.
“It’s not who we want to be at the end of the game,” Kitchens said of the incident. “It’s not who Myles wants to be. That’s not who we’re going to be. You have to be able to maintain your composure in times like that and in no circumstance do we want anything to do with anything like that. I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good. He understands what he did. He understands it’s totally unacceptable.”
Garrett told reporters that he had “no clue” if the Week 11 game was the last time he’d take the field this season.
“I lost my cool, and I regret it,” Garrett said. “I appreciate when my team had my back, but it should have never got to that point.
“What I did was foolish and I shouldn’t allow myself to slip like that.”
He also said he wasn’t going to comment on if Rudolph said anything that sparked his reaction.
“We sincerely apologize to Mason Rudolph and the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement. ”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.”
What the Steelers said after the game
“I thought it was pretty cowardly, pretty bush league,” Rudolph told reporters. He added that he wasn’t hurt and was “good to go.”
“I know it’s bush league, and I know it’s a total coward move on his part.”— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 15, 2019
—Mason Rudolph on Myles Garrett pic.twitter.com/OwRQcKhEhm
Pouncey was asked if Garrett should be suspended.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Pouncey said. “We’ll see how serious the NFL is about their players.”
He was also asked if he had ever been that angry before and responded, “I blacked out. I don’t even remember it really.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t say much afterward.
“I’ll keep my thoughts to myself. You guys saw what happened at the end.”
Team owner Art Rooney also released a statement the next day.
“As an organization, we are disappointed with what occurred last night near the end of our game against the Cleveland Browns. The actions of the players involved were not something that should be part of any football game.”
What punishments were handed down?
The helmet connected with the crown of Rudolph’s head, but he stayed in the game for the final snap. That’s irrelevant when it comes to punishment and the public’s judgment — the intent behind swinging what is effectively a lethal weapon at the exposed head of another player was damning for Garrett.
Garrett received an indefinite suspension from the NFL that kept him out for the rest of the 2019 season.
Steelers, Browns organizations each fined $250,000.— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) November 15, 2019
Browns' Garrett, Ogunjobi & Steelers' Pouncey suspended. pic.twitter.com/HJ4Qnc4xsY
Rudolph was also fined for his actions.
After the suspension was announced, Garrett issued an apology:
Statement from Myles Garrett: pic.twitter.com/txVA970CmW— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 15, 2019
Those initial fines were not the end of the punishment, though. The league took its time reviewing film of the brawl, and handed down a bunch of fines as a result. Everybody the league could link to the fight got some kind of fine, most of which were $3,507 fines for “entering (the) fighting area”.
The biggest fines went to Rudolph ($50,000), Garrett ($45,623), and Maurkice Pouncey ($25,096), in addition to the two $250,000 fines handed down to the Browns and Steelers organizations.
The full list of fines includes 33 players, and can be seen below.
Full list of fines and suspension from the #Browns-#Steelers brawl: pic.twitter.com/8jftCj6bWy— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 23, 2019
What happened in the appeal process?
Garrett appealed the suspension. His argument was based, in part, on the fact that the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow for indefinite suspension for on-field acts, per Ian Rapoport. In other words, Garrett wanted a finite number while at the same time argued for a reduction.
Part of Garrett’s appeal also hinged on his accusation the Steelers quarterback called him a racial slur immediately before the incident. Rudolph, through his attorney, denied this — calling the edge rusher’s claim “reckless and shameful” in the process. Garrett’s teammates Sheldon Richardson and Baker Mayfield told ESPN’s Jake Trotter that they hadn’t heard anything about a slur until Trotter asked about it.
Rudolph’s teammate, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, also came to his QB’s defense.
“I know Mason didn’t say that,” Heyward told reporters Thursday.
Since then, many of Garrett’s teammates — including Sheldon Richardson, Joel Bitonio, and Odell Beckham — have said they believe Garrett.
Garrett released a statement on Twitter in which he stated that the allegations against Rudolph were “not meant for public dissemination,” though he maintains that he definitely heard it. There was another apology, too:
November 22, 2019
The NFL’s appeals officers were unswayed by Garrett’s argument, and the league said it found no evidence to support his claim. He reiterated that Rudolph used a racial slur in an interview with ESPN’s Mina Kimes in February — a statement that issued fierce rebukes from both Rudolph and his head coach Mike Tomlin.
Mike Tomlin reacts to the allegations made against Mason Rudolph. pic.twitter.com/H2lkcu4YQY— First Take (@FirstTake) February 17, 2020
Upon appeal, Garrett’s indefinite suspension was upheld, while Pouncey’s was reduced a game.
Appeals officers Derrick Brooks and James Thrash, jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA, have reached their decisions on the discipline appeals for Myles Garrett and Maurkice Pouncey. pic.twitter.com/xfLpiHpVBc— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) November 21, 2019
Even with Garrett set to return to the field in Week 1 of the 2020 season, it’s unlikely this conversation is going away any time soon.