DETROIT — Ndamukong Suh was on the ground, entangled with the Green Bay Packers lineman who had blocked him down. As Suh got up, the Detroit All-Pro pinned Evan Dietrich-Smith's head against the turf, then was pushed off of him.
What happened next will only fuel the discussion about whether Suh's aggressive play too often crosses the line.
Suh stepped down hard with his right foot, making contact with Dietrich-Smith's right arm, and the Detroit star was ejected from the Lions' 27-15 loss to the unbeaten Packers on Thursday. As much as the Lions have accomplished this season, this was another Thanksgiving nightmare, full of injuries, turnovers and undisciplined play.
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“I was on top of a guy being pulled down and trying to get up off the ground,” Suh said of the third-quarter incident. “Why you see me pushing his helmet down [is] because I'm trying to remove myself from the situation. And as I'm getting up, I'm getting pushed, so I'm getting myself on balance and getting out of the situation. With that, a lot of people are going to interpret it as, or create their own storylines for seeing what they want to interpret, but I know what I did, and the man upstairs knows what I did.”
The replays, however, seem to suggest something different.
The cameras show Suh pushing Dietrich-Smith’s helmet into the Ford Field turf. “It looked like he was trying to hurt him,” guard T.J. Lang said, saying Suh was “wrenching (Dietrich-Smith’s helmet) from side to side.”
Packers center Scott Wells pulled Suh away, and while being restrained by left tackle Marshall Newhouse, Suh stood up and stomped on Dietrich-Smith.
Told Suh’s version of the story, Dietrich-Smith replied: “No idea.”
“I’m not out there trying to incite extra things or do any extra stuff,” Dietrich-Smith added later. “Stuff happens out on the football field and it gets a little intense.”
Suh’s stomp was the second cheap shot to a Packers lineman this season, following Minnesota’s Brian Robinon's kick to Lang’s groin during the game at Minneapolis last month. On both occasions, the Packers kept their poise and did not retaliate.
“We try to rise above anything that happens on the field,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I’m proud of our guys, the way we played, the way we competed.”
The Lions’ reputation around the league is they are, at best, a team that pushes things to the edge. At worst, they’re a dirty team. Keeping composure was a focal point for the Packers during their preparation leading to the game.
“It always goes to the character of the player,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It ultimately goes to the players' ability to focus, stay composed. We coach it. We talked about it exclusively this week. We knew this game was going to have a lot of extra energy involved and I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job handling it."
Suh, who had almost no impact on the game with one tackle, no sacks and no quarterback hits, apologized, but disputed the notion that he'd stepped on another player intentionally.”
"Not by any means. I understand, in this world, because of the type of player and the type of person I am, all eyes are on me. So why would I do something to jeopardize myself and jeopardize my team, first and foremost?" Suh said. "I did push his helmet multiple times because he's holding on to me. He's grabbing me. That's the reason I'm on top of him and I'm not at the quarterback, because I'm being held down by him and so I'm pushing him off of me."
Regardless, the powerful defensive tackle's third-quarter dismissal helped turn a close game into a rout. It came on third down when the Lions appeared to have forced Green Bay to settle for a short field goal. Instead, the Packers scored a touchdown moments later, taking a 14-0 lead on John Kuhn's 1-yard run.
In less than two seasons as a pro, Suh has established himself as one of the game's strongest and most athletic defensive linemen, but he's also received his share of fines.
Suh requested and received a meeting earlier this season with Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his play. He said that dialogue was helpful, but now the league will have to decide whether more discipline — be it a fine, a suspension or both — is merited in this case.
"I can't speak on that," Suh said. "I don't have a decision in that."
In August, Suh was fined a third time for roughing up a quarterback after grabbing Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and throwing him to the turf after he had gotten rid of the ball in a preseason game. He was fined last season for hits on Chicago's Jay Cutler during the regular season and Cleveland's Jake Delhomme in the preseason.
"That's a dirty play,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. “I don't know what happened. I would imagine he thought he was provoked. I don't know what somebody did to provoke him to kick, but that's definitely a dirty play."
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