A deafening silence befell Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon with thousands of onlookers watching medical personnel administer emergency aid to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, who lied motionless on the ground after absorbing a devastating hit from Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas.
It was a sobering reality that rattled every fan out of their desensitized comas to the violent nature of football, along with the reasons for the rules in place.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching moment in one of the scariest injuries you’ll ever see on a field was receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster collapsing at the mere sight of Rudolph in a comatose state.
The only close comparison was the image of the second-year quarterback being helped off the field with his facemask detached from his helmet.
That one moment evoked a surge of emotions within NFL fans debating whether Thomas had malicious intent or not when he delivered the blow that ultimately knocked Rudolph out of the game.
Even the NFL officials seemed confused by the incident considering a flag wasn’t even thrown until the severity of Rudolph’s injury became clear. It begs to question if a flag would have even been thrown if the Steelers quarterback was able to bounce back up and walk the hit off.
Some are of the belief the hit was vicious enough for Thomas to be ejected from the game, and others would even go as far as suggesting a suspension.
The latter is a bit on the extreme end of the spectrum, but an argument for an ejection is an understandable one given the NFL’s renewed dedication to changing the rules and upgrading the helmets in a continued effort to make the game safer. A play of that nature without any form of harsh penalty doesn’t make preaching player safety any easier.
Yet, there is also an emotional factor that comes into play when watching another human being knocked out in real time.
Thomas’ hit was clearly against the rules and worthy of both a flag and fine, but it also didn’t reach the egregious level of Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle or even Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner Carlton Davis’ hit on New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook.
The end result was obviously more devastating in Rudolph’s case, but Thomas could also clearly be seen leading with his shoulder and turning his helmet to the side instead of vaulting himself into a full-on helmet-to-helmet hit.
It was an awkward collision with Rudolph attempting a pass and leaning hard to his left into an incoming Thomas, resulting in an ugly collision between Rudolph’s chin and the side of Thomas’ helmet.
Granted, that doesn’t absolve Thomas from leaving his feet to initiate the contact, but there wasn’t enough there for the officials to actually eject him from the game, much less the league serving up a suspension.
Even after seeing the replay multiple times, the officials still collectively decided not to issue an ejection. According to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, the league is expected to side with the officials and not suspend Thomas, although a hefty fine is still a possibility.
There is never going to be a universal opinion when judging intent, but Thomas did seem visibly shaken when speaking with reporters about the hit after the game.
The Steelers’ night didn’t get any better with the officials calling a bogus roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Ola Adeniyi’s hit on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that led to the game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter. It would eventually lead to overtime where the Ravens would kick another field goal to ice the game.
Rudolph could be back on the field earlier than expected as the Steelers try to find some life in an AFC North division slowly passing them by. The odds are stacking to back-breaking proportions with no Killer B’s and maybe no Rudolph heading on the road on Sunday to take on the Los Angeles Chargers.
No one could have ever predicted the season would turn out like this.