CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green's squeaky clean history might have saved him from a suspension.
The Cincinnati Bengals are lucky that Green will face only a potential fine for his role in a fight with Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey that escalated into a bench-clearing brawl on Sunday. Had it been linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who already received a three-game suspension for a preseason hit the NFL deemed unnecessary, the outcome might have been different.
Green not only put Ramsey in a chokehold, but he punched him several times while Ramsey was on the ground. When more players piled on, Green continued to punch at Ramsey from the pile.
In an odd day of fighting around the NFL, only Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans received a suspension for a full-speed blindside tackle of Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. While semantics could be argued as to which action was worse, it was surprising not to see a harsher reprimand from the league.
In a letter to Evans regarding his suspension, the NFL cited the rule that prohibits unsportsmanlike conduct, which includes "any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship," such as "throwing a punch, or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made."
The league also wrote: "During the third quarter, after a play had ended, you struck an unsuspecting opponent in the back, knocking him to the ground. Your conduct clearly did not reflect the high standards of sportsmanship expected of a professional."
That last part could certainly apply to Green as well as Ramsey, who also did not receive a suspension. It certainly was not a becoming look for Green, who is one of the leaders of his team and completely lost his cool when his teammates needed him.
Had Green been suspended, the Bengals' offense, already struggling with him in the lineup this season, probably would have had only four receivers to rely on this weekend. Tyler Boyd is hurt and the Bengals don't feel John Ross is ready to play yet, and that would have left them with few options. Green is absolutely vital to the success of their team.
However, Green knows he messed up and publicly apologized. That could have played a small role in the NFL's decision. Green has been a model citizen for the league -- a family man who has never gotten in trouble off the field and rarely causes trouble on the field. Green didn't even have a personal foul prior to Sunday, and one of his only fines came from kicking a ball in excitement after a touchdown.
The league also deemed Ramsey the "instigator" in the fight.
"No. 20 of Jacksonville [Ramsey] was ejected for a flagrant personal foul, which started the altercation which resulted in a punch from No. 18 of Cincinnati [Green]. They were both disqualified," referee Brad Allen told a pool reporter on Sunday.
Allen said the shove was not the sole reason Ramsey was ejected.
"I don't want to use the term 'automatic' because it would have been a [penalty] on its own but we also had a fight," Allen said. "We ended up with a fight by Cincinnati but we had the instigator in Jacksonville. Therefore, they were both disqualified."
Ramsey also tried to escalate the fight afterward, and was seen heading toward the Bengals locker room as the team came in at halftime, visibly angry and shouting for Green before he was detained by security. While Evans' hit appeared to come out of nowhere, there was clearly blame to go around on both Green and Ramsey.
Green and Ramsey also had to sit out the second half of their games, while Evans was not ejected from his game.
The league has never had a set policy as to how it handles these things. Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was suspended for an altercation with then-Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, while Norman was only fined. There were a combined five personal fouls between the two players and a helmet-to-helmet hit by Beckham. Beckham did not publicly apologize until a few days later.
The league's decision shows that a lot of variables can likely factor into the punishment, but Green likely won't be so lucky if anything like this were to occur again. Green said that it won't, and given his history, there's little reason to believe it would.