- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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So here is what we know:
With 10 minutes and 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter Sunday at Ford Field, Detroit Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson drove Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Will Svitek back into the pocket. Svitek stepped on quarterback Matt Ryan's left ankle, leaving Ryan writhing on the field in pain.
What happened after that is a matter of hearsay. Multiple Falcons players told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Lions players were taunting and otherwise acting disrespectfully toward Ryan while the Falcons medical staff attended to him. I watched the TV replay and neither saw nor heard any evidence of that, but obviously much of what happens on an NFL field goes unheard by the public.
Receiver Roddy White said that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cliff Avril behaved in a way that caused him to lose "a whole lot of respect" for them. White said Avril "was kicking at [Ryan's] feet and said, 'Get him off the field.'"
Falcons center Todd McClure said: "I had respect for Suh before the game. But when Matt was on the ground, the things [Suh] was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for. There are certain things you don't do. [He said], 'Get the cart' and several other things that I can't repeat."
Via Twitter, Avril said: "Come on, I'm not in the business of hurting not one guy on the field... I would never taunt anyone on an injury."
Suh has yet to respond, as far as I'm aware.
Are White and McClure accurately depicting what Suh and/or Avril said and did? Are they exaggerating? Short of an NFL Films audio emerging, we might never know for sure. But this episode will only add fuel to the debate about the way Suh plays the game, and if he and his teammates are too often pushing the edge of aggressiveness and moving into the realm of being chippy or dirty.
Suh likened himself to Shaquille O'Neal this summer, suggesting he gets penalized based on his superior strength relative to opponents. Whether he likes it or not, he's also being judged by players and officials based on his reputation. There's nothing he can or should do about his strength, but if he acted the way the Falcons say he did after Ryan's injury, he's going to lose whatever benefit of the doubt he still maintained with officials and the league office.
One of the most notorious players in recent NFL history was safety Rodney Harrison, who is now an NBC analyst. Sunday night, Harrison said: "I don't think [Suh] is a dirty player, but I've talked to guys around the league, and they say he is a dirty player. The bad thing about that is it takes away from how good of a player you are. You don't want that reputation. He's too good of a player, and plus it hurts your team."
In the video below, ESPN analyst Antonio Pierce said: "If those things were said, that's wrong." But he also added that the Falcons' offensive line should take some ownership of the situation as well: "You have a job to do as an offensive lineman. If you don't want them to be dirty or hit your quarterback, keep him away."