In the aftermath of his Thanksgiving Classic ejection, Ndamukong Suh said he allowed "the refs to have an opportunity" to remove him from the game. The nation saw that he "allowed" that opportunity with gusto.
But what inspired his rage? Suh has been flagged many times for being too aggressive during the play, but hasn't ever lost control after the whistle before. What provoked his ouburst?
Throughout the first half, Suh was engaged in an evenly-matched, physical battle with Green Bay Packers guard Josh Sitton. Though many of the plays were clean (and Sitton had quite a bit of help from center Scott Wells), Suh and Sitton took turns escalating the physicality.
The incidental hands-to-the-face plays grew less and less incidental, until Suh finally popped off Sitton's helmet:
A few plays later, Sitton retaliated by hooking an arm around Suh's throat and riding him wide of the pocket. Suh threw up both arms, presumably to draw attention to the foul:
After Sitton was forced to the bench with a knee injury, Evan Dietrich-Smith came into the game. Suh was immediately much more effective in rushing the passer. On plays where he didn't have help, Dietrich-Smith was forced to push the boundaries with Suh just to slow him down. Right away, you see Dietrich-Smith pick up where Sitton left off:
On the first of these next two plays, you see Wells put his shoulder into Suh's stomach and wrap both arms around Suh's torso. This is, essentially, tackling; it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that both Dietrich-Smith and Wells tackled Suh on the ensuing play:
On the next play, Dietrich-Smith grabs Suh by the shoulder and (it appears) face mask, and wrenches Suh to the ground. Suh uses his leverage to take Dietrich-Smith down with him, and that's when he snaps:
There's an old saw that says holding could be called on every play; it's true. This stuff goes on all the time in the NFL. But Sitton, Wells, Dietrich-Smith and Suh all repeatedly crossed the line from "this stuff" to "flaggable offense," and the only flag thrown for any of it was Suh popping Sitton's helmet clean off.
It's clear that Suh was clutched, grabbed and had hands put to his face throughout the game. It's also clear that he didn't hesitate to give as good as he got. It's up to the officials to either flag this stuff or let it slide—and they let a lot slide. The chippy play escalated throughout the game, and they did nothing to head it off.
However, it's doesn't matter what others did unto him: Suh cannot do what he did unto Dietrich-Smith.
No matter how badly Suh felt wronged, he absolutely cannot do what he did. It's far outside the gray area he and the Packers line danced on the edge of that day. This is a black-and-white call, and he was squarely in the wrong.
Suh plead his case to the officials after his ejection. If he'd talked to the officials between halves, perhaps he'd have gotten the call he was looking for before Dietrich-Smith pushed him over the edge. If he hadn't snapped, the Lions would likely have been down by only 10 instead of 14. It might not have made a difference in the game, but it might have.
Suh is only 24 years old. He's in just his second year in the NFL, and learning as he goes. His talent, as well as his off-field intelligence and demeanor, vastly outstrip most other players his age. But his career is at a crossroads: either he takes this incident to heart, and reaches his all-time great potential, or he continues to blame the actions of others for his own lack of control.
He, the Detroit Lions and the NFL will all be better off if he takes the right road.
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