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Helmetgate: It was Rudolph who was the instigator. Here’s proof

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The franchise’s best player received a suspension that would end his season. Appeals process this week with a ruling on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Myles Garrett melee Thursday night in front of a national audience will still be the number one story come Monday morning.

What is lost with this game is that the Cleveland Browns helped themselves inside the division as well as a chance at a Wild Card spot by defeating their division foe the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-7. This was the first time in the last nine meetings Cleveland has won. The victory allowed the Browns to garner tie-breakers against both the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens whom they defeated soundly earlier in the season.

But after Thursday night’s game, the league suspended Garrett indefinitely; which translates to the remaining six regular season games and if Cleveland does somehow make the post-season, they will be without the services of arguably their best player.

Garrett is certainly the assailant in the clubbing of Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph. But get this, he was not the instigator.

Let’s begin with “the incident.”

For starters, it made absolutely zero sense that the normally mild-mannered Garrett would instantly get to his feet and try to rip Rudolph’s helmet off. Why? Why would he do that?

The game was essentially over with a 14-point Browns’ lead and 1:40 remaining in the game. After a Jamie Gillan punt, the Steelers had the ball on their own 11-yard line with no time outs left.

Rudolph then completed three passes for 25-yards before a 10-yard sack by Larry Ogunjobi and then Joe Schobert sacked Rudolph for an additional nine-yard loss. Facing a third-and-29 with 14 ticks remaining, Rudolph dropped back to pass and hit backup running back Trey Edmunds in the left flats on a screen with what would end up as an 11-yard gain and now eight seconds remaining.

However, during that play, the following happened.

Garrett had blasted past Pittsburgh left tackle Alejandro Villanueva who lightly pushed Garrett then released him as part of the screen in order to provide downfield blocking for Edmunds. This provided Garrett an unimpeded path to the quarterback. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks had called a blitz that also sent cornerback T.J. Carrie plus linebackers Schobert and Chris Smith.

The very instant that Rudolph released the pass, Garrett plowed into him and at the same time, Schobert was able to place two hands on Rudolph but immediately released him and headed up field to trail the play. Garrett did not release Rudolph.

In fact, he wrapped both arms around Rudolph’s chest and then the two twisted while Edmunds was running downfield. Pittsburgh offensive guards David DeCastro and Matt Feiler noticed the two entangled and both looked on as Garrett refused to release Rudolph and then took him to the turf. It should be noted that there was not any flag thrown for roughing-the-passer.

The first to hit the ground was Garrett while pulling Rudolph down with him. On the fall, Rudolph’s shoulder and head slams into the turf as Feiler is seen raising his arms into the air in the “what’s up with that?” gesture to the referee standing just behind the entire scenario. You can see Rudolph’s head bounce off the ground.

Pay attention to what happens next while Garrett and Rudolph are both lying on the playing field.

Garrett, still engaged in the play, rolls over onto Rudolph. The two immediately began to tussle and then Rudolph grabs the back of Garrett’s helmet with his right hand and his facemask with his left and then begins to twist Garrett’s head. Next, Rudolph loses the grip on the back of Garrett’s helmet and instead grabs the ear hole with several fingers on the rightside of Garrett’s helmet and begins to pull in a sideways motion as if to pull the helmet off Garrett’s head from the back going forward. At one point, you can see the entire back of Garrett’s head showing where his helmet was being lifted and then in view was half of his right ear exposed.

Anyone who has ever strapped on any type of helmet with a chin strap knows that to take it off you lift straight up, or rock is backwards, or unstrap the chin strap and then simply lift it off. It does not, however, come off backwards. The chin strap alone prevents this and can be painful and affects your forehead plus the nose basically works as a stop.

At 1:49 of the above video, Rudolph starts to pull Garrett’s helmet from the backside in an attempt to rip it off and then has his fingers in Garrett’s helmet ear hole and begins to pull sideways. At 1:50, half of Garrett’s head is out of his helmet and you can see half of his right ear showing. At 1:52, you can see Rudolph’s right foot into Garrett’s groin.

Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph begins to grab Myles Garrett’s helmet in an effort to rip it off or twist his head shortly after the pair hit the turf

While on the ground, Rudolph takes his right foot and kicks Garrett on his outer leg, and then moves his cleated foot to Garrett’s groin area. Rudolph is 6’, 5”, 235 pounds and therefore wears a pretty big shoe.

Rudolph was apparently upset that with just seconds remaining the game, Garrett had the gall to rush full-out as if it was based loaded, two outs and full count with men on base and the game riding on that final play. After his head bounced off the ground and then the takedown by Garrett, Rudolph thought he could rip Garrett’s helmet off his head and then when he lost his grip he attempted to twist Garrett’s head to the side.

This action set Garrett off. As he began to stand, Rudolph either lost his grip or released Garrett’s helmet altogether while still on his back on the ground. The two began hand fighting as Garrett reached for Rudolph’s facemask with his right hand. While DeCastro and Feiler are each shoving on Garrett, he began his ascent with Rudolph’s facemask in tow. Feiler released Garrett while DeCastro has a bear hug around his waist and the referee is standing amongst all the players. Garrett then pulled Rudolph to his feet still holding a tight grip on the quarterback’s facemask. As Rudolph almost completely stood up, the top of his helmet struck the arm pit of the referee which caused him to stumble and fall again. Garrett then did a twisty motion on Rudolph’s descent to which the helmet came completely off.

DeCastro then began to push Garrett backwards with Rudolph’s helmet now in Garrett’s right hand.

Rudolph immediately went after Garrett and grabbed the defensive end’s left shoulder pad as DeCastro continued to push Garrett backwards. As Garrett is backpedaling, Rudolph is enraged and screaming at Garrett with DeCastro as a buffer. He actually saw Garrett start to raise the helmet and brought his left arm up as an attempt to block the blow and then turned his head to his right to shield his face.

Garrett connected with Rudolph’s head. Luckily, the pad on the lower backside of the helmet, called the neck curtain, is the portion of the helmet that made contact on the top of Rudolph’s head. As soon as impact is completed, you can see Rudolph’s head dip and his face grimace as the much larger (and stronger) Garrett’s force completed the blow.

A yellow flag was flown.

What saved a serious injury for Rudolph was the fact that he saw the rise of his own helmet and was able to turn his face away, and then was struck with the only soft portion of the exterior of an NFL helmet.

After the blow, Rudolph turned and held up his arm to the referee in the “what’s up with that?” pose. All the while, Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey was jogging back towards the play with all of the commotion and had full view of the helmet assault. DeCastro was still holding Garrett and then slammed the defensive end to the turf with the help of now the full-speed Pouncey as the referee is a bystander to the action. As Garrett began to fall into the end zone, Pouncey connected with a right hand to the facemask of Garrett and then whiffed on a second right cross. DeCastro body slams onto Garrett who now is on the bottom of a pile of himself, DeCastro and Pouncey.

In the meanwhile, Rudolph had turned towards the melee in the end zone as Browns’ linebacker Smith has also come down into the picture. As Rudolph viewed the collision, Cleveland defensive tackle Larry Ojunjobi came running downfield and then two-handed shoved Rudolph unprovoked to the turf. Steeler guard Feiler then approached Ojunjobi and they become engaged.

Steelers’ guard David DeCastro pins Myles Garrett to the end zone floor while center Maurkice Pouncey (#53) attempts to repeatedly punch Garrett with Browns’ linebacker Chris Smith on the rightside edge

Back inside the end zone, with Rudolph now laying on the ground once again, Pouncey threw two more punches wildly then slid off the back of DeCastro who is laying full on top of the defenseless Garrett while Rudolph’s helmet bounced free on the turf alongside the men. Smith came running into the scrum and as Pouncey came off the pile, Smith grabbed him and attempted to push him away from the pile which is now just DeCastro laying on top of Garrett. With Smith engaged with Pouncey, the Steelers’ center tried to kick Garrett in the helmet but instead connected with Smith’s left shin while Smith was still trying to push Pouncey away. At this point, the referee is now just a spectator.

Pouncey dropped to his knees and got one more punch in before the line judge entered the fight and pulled Pouncey back to which he now quit his activity. Smith has now focused on trying to get DeCastro off of Garrett. Other players came into the situation such as Browns’ defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence and defensive end Chad Thomas plus Steelers wide receiver Johnny Holton. Both Lawrence and Thomas began pulling on DeCastro in an attempt to free Garrett.

Both FOX television commentators, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, were beside themselves. At one point Buck exclaimed, “That is one of the worst things I have ever seen on a professional sports field.”

There are numerous questions that remain unanswered.

When the helmetless Rudolph grabbed Garrett, what did he say that caused Garrett to swing the helmet? Only himself, Garrett and DeCastro know the answer to that.

Was Rudolph’s words so horrible that it made Garrett insistent on swinging Rudolph’s helmet towards the quarterback’s head? Only Garrett can give that response.

Why did Garrett go full speed on a play that obviously had nothing to do with the final outcome? If you watch the Browns, you know that the star defensive end only has one gear regardless of down-and-distance or time left on the clock.

What was the reason Ojunjobi came running down and then shove Rudolph in the back? That one is a head-scratcher. With the screen pass going up the field, there isn’t a chance he would have been able to see what had occurred between Garrett and Rudolph. Was he defending his teammate? That was probably his intent, but instead he could have gone into the end zone and tried to pry DeCastro off Garrett.

Did Garrett not realize that Rudolph did not have the ball any longer when he continued his two-handed grip on the quarterback and then slung him down? Apparently not.

To summarize, this incident is divided into four sections:

  1. Garrett hits Rudolph and then drives him to the Kentucky Bluegrass turf at FirstEnergy Stadium to which Rudolph’s shoulder and head hit the ground.
  2. Rudolph attempts to pull Garrett’s helmet off backwards, then grabs the helmet ear hole instead in a fashion to twist Garrett’s head, then when Garrett begins to stand Rudolph kicks him and then cleats his groin area while Garrett holds Rudolph’s facemask and rips the helmet off the quarterback.
  3. Rudolph goes after Garrett to which the Browns defensive end clubs him in the head with his own helmet.
  4. DeCastro body slams Garrett while Pouncey slugs and attempts to kick Garrett.
  5. The only fill-in-the-blanks is the verbiage exchange among all players.

Garrett has appealed his suspension. Is what he did with striking Rudolph not a casualty? Of course it is. Should he be suspended and fined for his actions? Absolutely.

But the details are, nobody paid any attention to this skirmish until Rudolph’s helmet was completely ripped off. However, prior to that, Garrett drove the quarterback to the ground and then the Steelers’ signalcaller tried to take off Garrett’s helmet and then twist his head then kicked him which led to his foot became a fixture on his groin area which led to Garrett becoming enraged.

Those are the facts.

UPDATE: The suspension appeals of Garrett, Ojunjobi and Pouncey will be heard Monday and Tuesday according to NFL sources as reported by ESPN. The officers are former NFL players Derrick Brooks and James Thrash. After the hearings, the duo are expected to announce their ruling regarding the appeals Wednesday morning.