Vikings safety Harrison Smith is escorted off the field during the first half against the Titans.
That's a question the NFL office could address in the coming days after rookie safety Harrison Smith was ejected for shoving aside back judge Steve Freeman in the second quarter; Freeman was forcefully walking Smith away from a scrum. Smith apologized profusely in the postgame locker room and said he hoped to avoid a suspension.
"The officials already have a hard job," Smith said. "I should never have been there. I just want to play next week."
Smith made two big plays in the first quarter, stopping Titans receiver Kendall Wright short of the sticks on a third-down reception in the first quarter and later recovering a Chris Johnson fumble. He was ejected after Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield intercepted a third-down pass with 11 minutes, 31 seconds left in the second quarter.
A post-play scrum led Freeman to face Smith and push him away. Smith took several steps back before shoving Freeman to his left.
Referee Jeff Triplette told a pool reporter that the move qualified as an "automatic ejection" and added: "He was just trying to separate from the huddle and he can’t be shoving him aside."
Smith didn't disagree.
"It was one of those things where I kind of got caught up in it," he said. "Just stupid for me putting myself in that situation and putting the ref in that situation. Putting the ref in that situation, I apologize for that."
Smith learned the hard way that, reactionary or otherwise, there is never an appropriate time to be physical with an official. Now he'll wait to see how forcefully the NFL wants him to understand that message.