The Ravens/Steelers rivalry brings out an awful lot of emotions. It also brings out a lot of awful emotions.
Perhaps the awful side of Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs came out when he turned and looked at the backside of Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount. Attempting to move an immovable pile, a prime time audience saw Suggs identify an opportunity, target his landing spot and swiftly, powerfully drive his 280-pound frame into the back of Blount's knees.
Suggs would say after the game it wasn't intentional. Perhaps, along with t-shirt sales, Suggs is working to create a post-retirement nest egg by developing his acting skills.
Thinking about what could have happened is sickening.
The rivalry is attention-grabbing. That's why it continuously ends up on prime time, season after season. At its height, hard hits were delivered by both sides, perhaps in a manner that's no longer legal.
Ravens legendary linebacker Ray Lewis cracked then-Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward in the head in 2011. Ward was shaken up and couldn't return. There's no doubt Ravens players were happy about that, just like Ward, and Steelers players were happy about Ward cleaning the clock of Ravens safety Ed Reed in 2007.
Times have changed, but one constant among the ethics of athletes is avoidance of the knees. Whether we in society adopt to this same set of unspoken rules or not, knocking a guy out is more ethically acceptable than taking out his knees.
It was a dirty hit. It was a thug-like hit. Suggs should be ashamed of himself and I'm sure he made a lot of other players in and out of the NFL angry. He claims it was done through emotion and competition. The question is, what separates emotions from thug-like behavior?
That wasn't emotion; that was a player making a decision to attempt to injure a fellow player. And the NFL cannot afford this in their current state.
People argue James Harrison is/was a dirty player. He certainly has racked up his own level of fines, including a suspension, and it's fair to say he had his share of borderline-unethical hits (he went low on then-Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker in the playoffs after the 2011 season).
Harrison had a great game on Sunday vs. Baltimore. He was all over Ravens QB Joe Flacco. On one play, he drilled Flacco right before he released the ball and took him to the ground.
But Harrison didn't get into a shouting match with the Ravens' bench. He didn't argue with other players on the field. Harrison helped Flacco up after a very hard-but-clean hit.
Suggs will be defended by his fans but, if the tables were turned, they'd call for a Harrison suspension.
Where is the line?
The league's alleged safety initiatives appear to have the aim of protecting quarterbacks and wide receivers from head injuries. Generally speaking, the NFL doesn't care about the knees of offensive linemen or running backs (cut-blocking is perfectly legal and very dangerous). On national TV, they saw one of the game's most well-known players intentionally dive into the knees of another player. Will they do anything about it?
We never can tell what's going to come out of the league office, but I do know if the NFL doesn't respond to this, they'll blur the line between playing with emotion and playing like a thug even further.