There have been some bad prime time games this year. Some really bad games. But last night’s Steelers-Bengals game was the worst. And I’m not talking about the fact that the Bengals managed to blow a 17-point lead. I’ll get to that later. I’m talking about the ugliness and the violence. That was as bad and dangerous game as I’ve ever seen. Two guys carted off on boards. One head shot after another.
Troy Aikman tweeted: “This game is hard to watch for a number of reasons…terrible for the NFL and the game of football overall.”
Mike Freeman, who’s covered the league for a long time, called it: “one of the ugliest, scariest games I’ve ever seen.” I can’t disagree. In fact, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a scarier game.
Everyone knows the history and the bad blood between these two teams. The Carson Palmer injury. The Hines Ward block. The ugly playoff game from last January. But this was worse than all that.
Let’s start with the Ryan Shazier injury, which was among the scarier moments in recent NFL history.
Unlike pretty much everything that followed, that was a football play. Shazier was attempting to make a tackle and suffered a serious back injury. He immediately grabbed for his lower back, was eventually strapped to a board, and carted off the field, reportedly without feeling in his lower extremities. It was a horrifying moment. Every player on the field, everyone in the stands, and everyone watching at home was shaken by that. Steeler Vince Williams became very emotional and it was completely understandable.
The game, of course, continued, and somehow the players were able to compartmentalize that and continue playing. Not only did they compartmentalize it, they seemed to completely forget about it because there was one dangerous hit after another.
George Iloka on Antonio Brown on a ball that Brown didn’t even attempt to catch. One guy after another smashing each other. It seemed like every hit was an attempt to send a message. I get it, it’s a rivalry and there are guys with long memories and short fuses.
But in the fourth quarter, things got even worse. Like this:
That was JuJu Smith-Schuster flattening Vontaze Burfict with a devastating block. And then standing over him and was flagged for the hit and for taunting. Burfict left the game on a cart.
And then Iloka again on Brown’s touchdown, where he went helmet to helmet.
It’s amazing that Brown held onto that ball. And ridiculous that Iloka delivered that shot. Two guys have already been strapped to boards and taken away and you’re looking to land the kind of shot that could get one or two more guys on boards.
And don’t come in here with the “this is just classic football, what’s next, putting flags on guys” argument. This isn’t that. I’m all in favor of physical football. Nor is it just AFC North football. I get it, you want to play a physical brand of football, especially against a rival, but that wasn’t physical football. That was scary. That was violent. That was borderline disturbing.
Big hits? Great. Guys getting strapped to boards and carted off? Not good at all. We should be talking about football, not getting updates from hospitals about whether or not a player has feeling in all his limbs. And whether or not they’ll be able to walk again.
For his part, Smith-Schuster apologized after the game: “I didn’t know it was Burfict at first. All I saw was the first Bengal was going to tackle . . . And my instinct is I gotta block for my teammate. And me just playing ball, I hit him. After I seen the replay I think I should’ve held back a little bit more from blocking him. Also, I believe that that’s not me. I should’ve never stood over him. I apologize for that and with that being said, I hope he gets better.”
Antonio Brown, who has been on the wrong end of Burfict cheap shots, wasn’t feeling so charitable, reportedly saying the word “karma” repeatedly in the locker room and as Smith-Schuster answered questions.
When asked if that was about Burfict, he said: “I ain’t talking about nobody. Karma is karma. Karma is in life. You do the wrong things, you get the wrong things out of it.”
And then when asked about the Iloka hit, Brown said, “The guy just left his feet and hit me in the head. Karma for him too. Karma.”
This is a huge Antonio Brown house. Love the guy, love his game, and love his attitude.. He might be the best and tougher receiver I ever seen. Period.. I love the guy.. But I don’t love that.. Because if the take is that’s karma and what goes around, comes around, nothing is ever going to change.. And it has to.. . Granted, in Brown’s defense, I haven’t been cheapshotted by Burfict or witnessed my teammates get cheapshotted by him, and I wasn’t on the receiving end of that vicious headshot from Iloka, but saying “karma” after a guy has been strapped to a board and carted off isn’t a good move at all. And neither is standing over a guy after it looks like you’ve put him to sleep..
And provides an ugly end to an ugly, ugly game. And the league and it’s players have to do everything they can to minimize head shots: it’s probably impossible to take them out of the game completely. The sport will always be violent. And players will always know what they’re signing up for; but even more has to be done to try to minimize the number of shots to the head.