If the NFL truly had cause to believe that Ndamukong Suh purposely kicked Texans QB Matt Schaub in the groin last Thursday, there is no doubt that Suh would have drawn a suspension. Given Suh's past history -- he was suspended two games for stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith last Thanksgiving -- and his dubious reputation, the league would not have granted Detroit's DT leniency if proof was there.
But Suh reiterated Wednesday that as he "was being dragged to the ground," his foot "inadvertently hit the man."
And the replay of the incident doesn't seem to offer much clear-cut evidence. Suh's leg seemed to whip around a bit and he did land a direct hit on Schaub, but Suh also appears to be looking directly into the ground as that occurs.
The NFL reviewed the incident and opted to fine Suh $30,000, a cop-out decision that both labels Suh as guilty and hints that the league is as unsure as the rest of us about what occurred.
"Any time you see a play like that, you want to say, 'Why did it happen?'" NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, according to the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett. "It's hard for us to be able to determine that just from video. Those are the things that sometimes you have to talk to Ndamukong in this case, or the player, but intent is something that’s very difficult for us to ever try to make a judgment on."
So, instead of getting to the bottom of the matter, the NFL adopted an appeasement policy -- the Lions maintained that Suh was innocent, the Texans (and their fans) wanted Suh punished. The league responded by handing out the equivalent of a double-minor penalty in hockey, the $30K fine indicating that Suh did something wrong ... but nothing so wrong that the NFL could deem it done on purpose.
But it didn't feel like there was much middle ground here, especially with the controversial Suh being the player in question. Either it was an intentionally dirty play or it was not. For the record, there was no flag issued on the play (or on a second Suh-Schaub incident later, when Suh bent Schaub awkwardly to the turf while pressuring the QB).
NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson seemed to tip the NFL's hand toward a potential Suh suspension on the day after the game, during a spot on The Dan Patrick Show:
“It appeared to be a little out of the ordinary, let’s just say,” Anderson said. “It didn’t appear to be a natural football move, but we’ll withhold judgment until we see all the angles.”
“Certainly, we have to go on a player’s history,” Anderson said. “That will certainly factor into our thinking. . . . If you’re a repeat offender you really aren’t entitled to the benefit of the doubt.”
Argue, if you will, Anderson's decision to speak so publicly about the incident prior to the league talking with Suh, but it seemed clear at that time that Suh was headed for a substantial punishment. A $30,000 fine is nothing to sneeze at, of course -- Suh's base salary this season is just $540K, thanks to a contract restructuring he allowed in the summer to help the Lions' cap situation.
The NFL, though, has had a couple of punishments shot down on appeal in just the past few days: Ed Reed's one-game suspension for repeated violations of rules protecting defenseless players was overturned, as was Kenny Phillips $30K fine for a hit on Vincent Jackson.
Suh may appeal, too -- and could stand a chance to win, since the NFL's punishment evidently was based on the appearance of an indiscretion rather than definitive affirmation. Will either side, the Lions or the Texans, be satisfied with Suh's punishment here? Probably not, since the NFL mistakenly attempted to straddle the fence with this ruling.