- Jay Morrison Staff Writer
Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka won the appeal of his one-game suspension and will not have to sit out Sunday’s home game against Chicago.
The NFL suspended Iloka for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown on a game-tying touchdown with 3:21 remaining in Monday night’s 23-20 Steelers win.
Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster also received a one-game suspension for his illegal hit against Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, but he lost his appeal and will have to sit out Sunday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Iloka found out his suspension was overturned shortly before Wednesday’s practice, which he participated in. He declined comment afterward, but his agent Ron Slavin issued a statement.
“We are grateful to appeals officer Derrick Brooks for reducing George’s penalty from a one-game suspension to a fine equivalent to what players who were recently involved in similar plays received. While we still believe George did nothing wrong on the play the helmet-to-helmet contact was a result of Antonio Brown’s lowering his head as he braced for contact, we felt and argued that a suspension was particularly egregious. We thank Derrick for acknowledging out concerns and making the proper decision.”
Before being told of the NFL’s decision during his weekly press conference, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said he disagreed with the suspension because similar hits this have only drawn fines.
“That was brought to George’s defense, very appropriately I think, because there was a reference made that I thought was an overstate,” Lewis said. “There were some plays that happened last season. They were brought to the attention after the season to both the membership and competition committee, and these weren’t those kind of plays, plays that happen within the scope of football.
“We’ve done a lot of changes, revisions and so forth in how the game is taught and yet this is still going to be, at the end of the day, football,” he added.
In lieu of the suspension, the NFL fined Iloka $35,464, which is significantly less than the $235,294 game check he would have forfeited.
In Pittsburgh, several players disagreed with the NFL’s decision to uphold the Smith-Schuster suspension for a hit that, like Iloka’s, typically only results in a fine.
“I don’t think it was warranted,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters. “I thought maybe a fine, a pretty steep fine or something like that. I thought what happened happened in the context of a football play. It wasn’t a hit on a kicker or a defenseless player. It was a guy getting ready to make a tackle — a much bigger football player.”
The hit was exacerbated by Smith-Schuster standing over the concussed Burfict and taunting him before the Bengals linebacker was strapped to a backboard and driven off the field on a cart. Smith-Schuster was flagged for both the hit and the taunt, although only the taunting penalty was enforced.
“They said the taunt came within the scope of the play, that the ball carrier was not tackled yet,” Lewis said of the explanation he received from the officials.
While Lewis wasn’t asked about Smith-Schuster’s suspension, he said there is no place in the league for his actions after the hit while also referencing Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell’s unnecessary roughness penalty against Burfict on the sixth play of the game.
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“We don’t want any of that stuff,” Lewis said. “I don’t think either side wants to have any of that, the unnecessary roughing that occurred early in the game. We don’t want to have a player hit with an illegal hit and then stood over. I don’t think anybody wants that, coach (Mike) Tomlin or myself or any of the clubs.
“I think both of us made that clear to the players,” Lewis added. “That’s not the look we want in the National Football League.”