And to think I had almost turned off this game after Mason Rudolph’s thirty-seventh interception. With eight seconds left in a game where the Cleveland Browns were about to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home for the first time in years, defensive end Myles Garrett slammed Rudolph into the ground well after he’d thrown the ball away, starting a scuffle between the two. Garrett decided to end the argument by clobbering Rudolph with his own helmet, and the best one can say is that it didn’t kill Rudolph … although it might have.

Fortunately, everyone else handled themselves with aplomb. Oh, wait ….

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett was ejected in the closing seconds of Thursday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers after ripping the helmet off quarterback Mason Rudolph and striking him in the head with it.

Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who pushed Rudolph to the ground from behind after the Steelers quarterback had been hit by Garrett, and Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey also were ejected. Pouncey jumped into Garrett and kicked him as Steelers teammate David DeCastro pinned Garrett to the ground.

To their credit, Cleveland’s coach and QB didn’t waste any words defending the indefensible:

Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens afterward called Garrett’s actions “embarrassing” and said there was “no excuse” for what Garrett had done.

“I’ve never seen that in my life,” Kitchens said. “It’s not good.” …

Mayfield, who has been friends with Rudolph since college — when the two played for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, respectively — called Garrett’s hitting Rudolph in the head with a helmet “inexcusable.”

“Obviously, stuff like that is dangerous,” Mayfield said. “So it was tough to see that, knowing Mason. It was tough to watch.”

What made this very strange was that Cleveland was on the verge of winning this game against a depleted Steelers squad, and it was the Steelers who should have been frustrated. Two of their top receivers had left with concussions after helmet-to-helmet hits earlier in the game, and they couldn’t move the ball to save their lives outside of one drive. Rudolph, who had played pretty well after coming back from a bad concussion a few weeks ago, looked like a walk-on for most of the game, turning the ball over four times.

What was Garrett trying to prove with a pile-driver of Rudolph with eight seconds left in the game the Browns were winning by two touchdowns? Whatever it was, the NFL now has something to prove, ESPN’s Kevin Siefert argues this morning. If Garrett plays another down in the NFL this year, they’re not serious about player safety:

On Thursday night, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett committed the closest thing we’ve seen to an on-field crime in the modern era of pro football. Only one response will suffice. The NFL must issue the longest suspension for a single on-field act in its history, ending Garrett’s 2019 season with six games remaining on the Browns’ schedule and making clear to the world that what happened at FirstEnergy Stadium is one of the worst moments on the field in its history.

Such discipline, as harsh as it might seem, won’t be particularly controversial to anyone who saw Garrett rip off Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and then use it to pummel his unprotected head. If Garrett hit someone with a helmet on the streets of Cleveland, he would face arrest. The outburst left grizzled football veterans gasping at its sheer violence, a throwback matched by only a handful — if any — of intentional acts in 100 years of league play. …

The NFL should be eager to demonstrate its mettle at a time when it has never been more cognizant of and responsive to brain health. There should be little debate Friday at the league headquarters in New York City. Commissioner Roger Goodell should want the world to know how exceptional this situation is. Football can’t be like this anymore.

But the truth is that it has rarely — if ever — been like this. The NFL’s punishment should reflect that sobering fact.

Garrett won’t be the only one riding the pine after that brawl. Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi will likely get a week off or so for a cheap-shot blindside hit on Rudolph in the melee after Rudolph had walked away from it, and Steelers offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey also got ejected for kicking Garrett while he was on the ground and probably won’t get much sympathy from the league office either. (If you saw the game, you know that suspension might hurt the most, as the Steelers’ OL leaked like a sieve.)

Damien Woody told Scott Van Pelt after the game says he’s never seen anything like it. “He just literally took his helmet and hit him upside the head,” Woody says in disbelief. “To me, that’s like assault!” Indeed, even in a game where every play features some form of it.

Whatever the league does, it should do quickly. Guess which two teams meet again in 17 days? That game will be played in Pittsburgh, and if Garrett’s on the field for that one, watch out. Seifert’s correct in that the NFL has to set an example with Garrett about swinging helmets at players, especially those without head protection. Otherwise, we’ll see more of it — and someone’s going to really get killed out there.

Addendum: Jeff Dunetz thinks the closest analogue to this was Juan Marichal’s attack on Johnny Roseboro with a bat more than fifty years ago. He may be right.

Update, 12:15 pm ET: The NFL did indeed take this seriously — so seriously, in fact, that Garrett could conceivably miss more than just this season:

The NFL has suspended the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett without pay indefinitely for ripping the helmet off a Pittsburgh Steelers’ player and hitting him in the head with it at Thursday night’s game. …

The suspension will be at minimum for the remainder of the regular season and postseason and the defensive end “must meet the commissioner’s office prior to a decision on his reinstatement,” the statement read.

He’s not the only one out, although the other two players will be back this season:

Myles Garrett will not play again this season, and maybe longer.

The NFL announced Friday that the Cleveland Browns defensive end has been suspended for the rest of this season, including the playoffs should the Browns make it, and will have to meet with the commissioner’s office before being reinstated in 2020. …

The NFL also suspended Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi one game for pushing Rudolph in the back to the ground shortly after Garrett had slugged the Steelers quarterback in the head with the helmet. Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey, who jumped into Garrett, kicking and punching him after Rudolph had been struck, was suspended three games.

All three players — who were ejected from Thursday’s game — are suspended without pay and will be fined. In addition, the NFL has fined the Browns and Steelers organizations $250,000 each for the incident.

One little light of class shone out of Cleveland today, though. Kudos to the owner for taking this one straight on:

“We are extremely disappointed in what transpired last evening at the end of our game,” the statement said. “There is no place for that in football and that is not reflective of the core values we strive for as an organization. We sincerely apologize to Mason Rudolph and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Myles Garrett has been a good teammate and member of our organization and community for the last three years but his actions last night were completely unacceptable. We understand the consequences from the league for his actions.”

Translation: You’re on your own, Myles.