Delusion and reality for Ndamukong Suh
November, 24, 2011
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
Andrew Weber/US PresswireNdamukong Suh was ejected in the third quarter after he stepped on Evan Dietrich-Smith.DETROIT -- Thursday will go down as the day Ndamukong Suh lost his innocence. No longer can there be a reasonable debate about the style and intent of his play, much less his comprehension of its consequences, not after his game ejection and subsequent explanation after the Detroit Lions' 27-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The entire nation watched Suh pound the head of Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith into the ground three times and then stomp on him as the two were separated. Many of you saw his postgame comments, a scary mix of manic sentences and paranoid conspiracy theories that suggested the gulf between Suh and the NFL's accepted way of life is widening rather than closing here at the end of his second season.
Even Lions coach Jim Schwartz, one of Suh's most reliable defenders, offered a measured response. "Regardless of our intent," Schwartz said, "we can't put ourselves in that position."
It's going to be difficult, if not impossible, for Suh to shed the stigma of such a visible incident. If you didn't think he was a dirty player before, you're going to have a much more difficult time not believing it now.
Don't take it from me. Multiple NFL observers and Packers players were angered and/or incredulous by the totality of Suh's actions and words. Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson called it "a dirty play." Retired NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now a Fox Sports analyst, tweeted: "He feels he did nothing wrong! What are we dealing with here?"
Meanwhile, Packers guard T.J. Lang, who was a couple of feet away from Suh during the scrum, suggested a suspension might be in order.
"There's no doubt that he's known for playing hard and getting chippy and getting after guys," Lang said. "He's a guy that doesn't just want to beat you. He wants to hurt you if he can.
"He's going to learn sooner or later that he can't play football that way in this league. He keeps playing that way, sooner or later they're going to have to make a move to show him that's not the way you play football in this league."
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh's third-quarter ejection helped turn a close game into a rout.
As recorded in our Verbatim post earlier, Suh said he pushed Dietrich-Smith's head because he was "being pulled down" and he was trying to get off the ground. Replays show that the players' arms were locked in a wrestling position, and neither was letting go as Suh flipped on top of the scrum. So Dietrich-Smith isn't totally innocent here. I get that.
Dietrich-Smith didn't have much to say about it -- "Just two football players out there playing hard," he said -- but Lang had a first-hand account that cast doubt on Suh's version.
"Uh, no," Lang said of Suh's explanation. "That's [expletive]. Because I saw [it] when I was walking over to see what was going on. He clearly had Evan by the face mask, pinned to the ground. His explanation is crap. I saw it when I was walking over there.
"I saw him on top of him with both hands clenched on his face mask looking like he was trying to turn his face mask or rip his helmet off. There was no pushing off and trying to stand up. He was going at his face.
"When you go for a guy's head, it's personal. There's no room in the game for that. You could get a career-ending injury if somebody twists your neck the wrong way. I don't have any doubt in my mind that he was trying to hurt him."
The only person who truly knows Suh's intent is Suh himself. So let's put it this way: If Suh didn't intend to do what he did Thursday, he needs to be examined for involuntary leg and arm movement. There has been room for debate in many of Suh's other questionable plays, but it's hard to imagine a reasonable person looking at the replay of Thursday's episode and not seeing an out-of-control player acting well beyond the scope and rules of the game.
Perhaps most bewildering is that Suh continues to believe that his now-cemented reputation has been foisted on him, rather than something he was responsible for creating.
"A lot of people are going to interpret it as, or create their own storylines for seeing what they want to interpret it," Suh said. "But I know what I did, and the man upstairs knows what I did."
Yes, we all do. The replay offers irrefutable evidence. And it was an excellent illustration of why the Lions are now 7-4 and facing a tough road to the playoffs. One of the Packers' primary talking points during the short practice week was, essentially, to sit back and wait for Suh and/or another Lions player to make a mistake of aggression.
Or, as Lang put it: "He's been getting dumb penalties all year. That's something we talked about all week: They were probably going to do something stupid along the way. They’ve done it in almost every game."
Suh said he is not concerned with his public reputation, implying that God's reaction is the only one he cares about. That's a good thing, because there will be no going back on it now. Ndamukong Suh has a chance to be one of the best and most marketable defensive linemen to ever play this game, and the Lions should be a good team for several years to come. But in his first two seasons, Suh has cared more about beating people up than beating them. That's too bad.