NFL suspends JuJu Smith-Schuster, George Iloka one game each for hits

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Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka were each suspended one game for hits in Monday night’s game, the NFL announced Tuesday.

Smith-Schuster already has had his appeal heard with appeals officer James Thrash, and Iloka’s appeal is being heard this evening, a source told ESPN.

As Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster talked to reporters about his vicious block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, fellow receiver Antonio Brown yelled “karma” repeatedly.

Smith-Schuster was suspended for a vicious fourth-quarter block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was in a defenseless posture, according to the NFL’s ruling.

“The contact you made with your opponent placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury and could have been avoided,” NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan said in issuing the suspension. “Your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player.”

Iloka was suspended for a hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the end zone in the fourth quarter when Brown was deemed to be a defenseless receiver. Brown held on to the ball to score the eventual tying touchdown.

“The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of ‘eliminating flagrant hits that have no place in our game’ and has encouraged the League office to suspend offenders for egregious violations such as the one you committed last night,” Runyan said in his ruling.

Neither player was ejected from the game.

The suspensions bring the total to three from on-field actions in Week 13. On Monday, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was suspended one game for a late hit on the Buffalo Bills’ Tre’Davious White.

With 7:10 remaining in Pittsburgh’s eventual 23-20 victory over the Bengals, Smith-Schuster leveled Burfict as the linebacker pursued Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell on a 12-yard gain, then stood over Burfict as he lay motionless.

“I’ll stand by my statement last night that his actions after the hit are more disturbing than the actual hit,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “Those hits are teachable moments. He’s a better sportsman than he displayed after the block. He has to work hard so people understand the type of man he is.”

Smith-Schuster told reporters he “messed up” with the taunting, because he cost his team 15 yards.

“I was just playing to the whistle,” Smith-Schuster said. “I didn’t mean to stand over him. I was trying to get a big block for Le’Veon Bell for him to get upfield. The unsportsmanlike conduct is not me. I shouldn’t have done that. I hope he’s OK and I hope he gets better.”

He also apologized in a postgame tweet.

I don’t have any intentions to hurt anyone when I play football. I didn’t mean to hurt Vontez Burfict, I just wanted to throw a block for my teammate. I apologize for standing over him and that isn’t me. Praying he gets better.

— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) December 5, 2017

After the game, Brown yelled “karma” repeatedly, then said “Touchdown Brown” will pay Smith-Schuster’s eventual fine.

Asked if that comment was related to Burfict, Brown said, “I ain’t talking about nobody. Karma is karma. Karma is in life. You do the wrong things, you get the wrong things out of it.”

The game was also reminiscent of a 2015 wild-card playoff game between the teams thanks to the high number of penalties. The Bengals set a franchise record with 13 penalties for 173 yards. The two teams have combined for 1,088 penalty yards in their matchups against each other, including playoffs, since the 2015 season. Their 32 major penalties, such as unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct, in the same time span is nearly twice as many as any other matchup in the same period.

“I’ll acknowledge that there were some unfortunate situations in that game that we don’t need in our game,” Tomlin said. “My job as head coach here is to minimize those things before they occur. But they do. We’ll work hard to make sure they don’t happen again.

“We have a responsibility to make this game as safe as possible. It’s my opinion as someone who is highly involved in the process behind the scenes. I take that responsibility seriously. I think the game is safer than it’s been. But that being said, we still have room to grow.”

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Katherine Terrell contributed to this report.

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