NFC North: Falcons-Lions 2011

Earlier Monday, we noted that two Atlanta Falcons players made some serious and specific allegations of taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct by the Detroit Lions, taking place when quarterback Matt Ryan suffered a left ankle injury in Sunday's game at Ford Field. So it's only fair to allow the Lions to respond.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh and Cliff Avril.
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiNdamukong Suh, left, and Cliff Avril, accused by Atlanta players of unsportsmanlike conduct, responded Monday. Avril called it "mind-boggling" that the Lions were cast as a dirty team in comparison.
Let's just say that defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril have strongly rejected the accusations of Falcons receiver Roddy White and center Todd McClure. White told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Avril was "kicking at [Ryan's] feet" while we writhed on the ground in pain. McClure said Suh was taunting Ryan and calling for the Falcons to "get the cart."

Speaking to reporters Monday, Suh denied "trash talking" Ryan and noted the injury occurred when Falcons left tackle Will Svitek stepped on Ryan's ankle. Suh called the play "karma" for "all the bad stuff" the Falcons' offensive line has "done in the past."

Said Suh: "There are many, many, many plays that I could go back to that I watch on film all week that their offensive line has done," Suh said, "and that they've been coached to do, as far as I know. It's not anything that's not been said; it's not anything that's new."

Asked specifically if he said anything to Ryan after the injury, Suh said:

"I have nothing to say. The man's sitting on the ground. We've obviously continued to do our job, getting to him, causing havoc, his own quarterback takes him out. … I have no comment, no issues, no nothing -- nothing to say to him. At that time, when he's on the ground, there's nothing that I have to say to him. We've done our job, we've been in his face, we've caused him to go down, we've caused his offensive lineman to hurt him."

(Philip Zaroo of is blogging the entire interview.)

Meanwhile, Suh wondered why none of the Falcons' offensive linemen retaliated if Avril had truly kicked at Ryan. If the Falcons had kicked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Suh said, "all hell would have broken loose." In an interview with the Lions' web site, Avril backed Suh's assessment of the Falcons' offensive line. He said it is "mind-boggling" that the Lions were cast as a dirty team in comparison.

"You watch film of Atlanta's O-line and they're 20, 30 yards down the field cutting guys," Avril said. "You're running toward the pile and they're trying to clean you up. Everybody was protecting themselves. I guess since they couldn't clean us up in piles because guys were aware of it, they decide to make it like we're the dirty players."

Normally, a he-said, she-said gives us some comic relief during the monotony of an NFL season. But these allegations have come at a serious time in the career of Suh, and to a lesser extent, Avril.

A dirty reputation shouldn't change how anyone plays or limit his effectiveness. In some cases, in fact, it could help create a psychological advantage over opponents. But it's still a damaging stigma to carry because it implies your success has come outside of the rules, or at least the ethics of fair play. Few, if any, competitors want a stigmatic asterisk next to their achievements.

I imagine that's why Suh and Avril were so vehement Monday. There is a school of thought that suggests a response only gives further life to a one-sided story. But in this case, going silent would have been a tacit admission of guilt and provided another episode with which to tack the dirty tag on Suh.

As we discussed earlier, there is no evidence on the television copy that Avril got anywhere near Ryan nor of anyone reacting to something Suh might have said. I'm not sure if the Lions needed to publicize their thoughts on the Falcons' play. It sounded a little bit like, I'm dirty? No, you're dirty! But overall, it was important for Suh and Avril to stand up themselves. Good for them.

Did Shaq Suh strike again?

October, 24, 2011
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.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Tim Fuller/US PresswireFalcons quarterback Matt Ryan is helped by medical staff after being sacked during the third quarter Sunday against Detroit.
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."