ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Ndamukong Suh is going back to the NFL, this time hoping for some leniency.
The league suspended Detroit’s All-Pro defensive tackle without pay for two games on Tuesday, punishing the second-year player for roughing up a Green Bay Packers offensive lineman after the whistle last week. Suh promptly appealed his suspension, hoping his stomp doesn’t keep him away from his playoff-hopeful teammates when they need him most.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Suh’s hearing will be with Art Shell, an appointed appeal officer who is paid by the league and NFLPA. As of late Tuesday afternoon, the hearing hadn’t been scheduled, but the league has said it will expedite the procedure to give Suh and Lions an answer before Sunday’s game at New Orleans.
If Suh doesn’t win the appeal, he won’t play against the Saints or in the Dec. 11 home game against Minnesota. He would return Dec. 12 ahead of a road game against Oakland.
Suh is barred from practice and the team’s facility while suspended. He did not return messages left with his agent.
“As a player, you have to appeal it,” said Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the team’s union rep. “I’m sure the NFLPA will be on his side to make sure that he gets a fair hearing.”
If the NFL turns rejects the appeal, Suh will be watching the Lions (7-4) scramble to keep up in the NFC wild-card race after what the league said was his fifth violation of on-field rules in his first two years in the NFL. And everyone saw the latest one.
Suh lifted up his right knee and forcibly stepped on Evan Dietrich-Smith’s right arm during the third quarter of the Lions’ 27-15 loss last Thursday in a nationally televised Thanksgiving Day game. Before the stomp seen from coast to coast, Suh shoved Dietrich-Smith’s helmet toward the turf while separating himself from the Packers player on the ground.
It might have hurt Suh’s case when he sounded defiant during his postgame news conference, insisting he didn’t intentionally step on his opponent. After the Lions criticized his conduct Friday, Suh issued an apology to his teammates, organization and fans — not to Dietrich-Smith — as some around the league said his latest outburst proved he was the NFL’s dirtiest player.
“I’ll let him speak for himself when he gets that opportunity, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with him the last two days and I think he is in a different spot,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Tuesday. “I think his No. 1 thing is, he didn’t want to be a distraction for the team. He wanted the team to be able to focus on the Saints and he wants to be accountable for his actions.”
Earlier this season, the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year requested a meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his play after he drew several penalties and another fine. Suh said he had a better understanding of the rules after that meeting four weeks ago. On Sunday, he called Goodell to apologize but that didn’t appear to help.
Lions offensive linemen Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims refused to answer questions about Suh after Tuesday’s practice. Vanden Bosch, though, believes everyone in the locker room supports Suh, who he spoke with on Tuesday.
“His biggest regret is the affect it had on the team,” Vanden Bosch said. “It was an unfortunate situation. When you’re on the field, a lot of things happen when you’re playing with so much emotion in such a physical game. It’s difficult to look at the grand scheme of things when you’re in the heat of the moment.
“There’s no question he’d like to have the moment back, but he’s dealing with the repercussions of it and we are as well.”
The Lions will have a roster exception during Suh’s suspension, meaning they can sign someone to replace him or bolster some other spot on the team.
Suh has already been fined three times for roughing up quarterbacks and another time for unsportsmanlike conduct. He leads the league with nine personal fouls since 2010, according to STATS LLC — two more times than teammate Cliff Avril and three more than Philadelphia’s Jason Babin, San Francisco’s Dashon Goldson and Denver’s D.J. Williams.
Suh grabbed Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and threw him to the turf after he had gotten rid of the ball in a preseason game this year. He was docked twice last year for shoving Chicago’s Jay Cutler high in the back and for twisting Cleveland’s Jake Delhomme’s face mask and slamming him to the ground. He also was fined $5,000 during Week 9 in the 2010 season for unsportsmanlike conduct.
He has been able to absorb the fines, making $40 million guaranteed with a chance to get paid as much as $68 million in his five-year contract he signed after Detroit drafted the former Nebraska star No. 2 overall in 2010.
Suh’s reputation, though, has just taken a big hit and it will cost his team that is clinging to hopes of earning a spot in the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.
“Obviously, it hurts to lose any player for two games much less a player like Ndamukong Suh,” Schwartz said. “But there’s accountability for our actions and that’s a situation where something happened after the whistle. We want to be as tough and physical and play as hard as we can between the snap and whistle, but anything that happens after that we put our team in a bad position and we have to pay the consequences for and that’s the position we’re in right now.”
Suh can try to work on his image and channeling his passion, but he won’t get off an unwanted list of players who have been suspended for on-field conduct during the Goodell era.
Most famously, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was suspended for five games in 2006 for swiping his cleats across the head of helmetless Dallas center Andre Gurode.
Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams was forced to miss a game in 2007 after his third illegal horse-collar tackle of that season. Tampa Bay’s Elbert Mack had to sit out of a game during the 2008 season for a helmet-to-helmet blow, his second flagrant hit in three games. Eric Smith was suspended for a game that year for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Two years ago, Carolina’s Dante Wesley missed a game for a hit to the head.
Vanden Bosch said he’s not sure Suh’s suspension was merited.
“There’s not a lot of precedent,” he said.
Decades ago, what Suh did was just part of the doing business on the field.
“It’s a different game, covered differently these days,” said four-time Super Bowl winning linebacker Matt Millen, whose playing career started three decades ago with the Oakland Raiders. “What’s deemed crazy now, wasn’t crazy back in the day. Now more than ever, you have to keep your poise and control emotions when you feel like you have to retaliate. What you learn is, you don’t have to get back at the guy right then and that you’ve got time to take care of field justice.”
Hall of Fame defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene said he suspects Suh has learned a lesson.
“I hated for that to happen to him and I’m sure he does now, too,” Greene said. “With time, he’ll learn how to funnel his fire, but I hope he never loses that fire because he has to have it to play the position.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in New York contributed to this report.