Earlier Monday, we noted that two Atlanta Falcons players made some serious and specific allegations of taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct by the Detroit Lions, taking place when quarterback Matt Ryan suffered a left ankle injury in Sunday's game at Ford Field. So it's only fair to allow the Lions to respond.
Let's just say that defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril have strongly rejected the accusations of Falcons receiver Roddy White and center Todd McClure. White told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Avril was "kicking at [Ryan's] feet" while we writhed on the ground in pain. McClure said Suh was taunting Ryan and calling for the Falcons to "get the cart."
Speaking to reporters Monday, Suh denied "trash talking" Ryan and noted the injury occurred when Falcons left tackle Will Svitek stepped on Ryan's ankle. Suh called the play "karma" for "all the bad stuff" the Falcons' offensive line has "done in the past."
Said Suh: "There are many, many, many plays that I could go back to that I watch on film all week that their offensive line has done," Suh said, "and that they've been coached to do, as far as I know. It's not anything that's not been said; it's not anything that's new."
Asked specifically if he said anything to Ryan after the injury, Suh said:
"I have nothing to say. The man's sitting on the ground. We've obviously continued to do our job, getting to him, causing havoc, his own quarterback takes him out. … I have no comment, no issues, no nothing -- nothing to say to him. At that time, when he's on the ground, there's nothing that I have to say to him. We've done our job, we've been in his face, we've caused him to go down, we've caused his offensive lineman to hurt him."
(Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com is blogging the entire interview.)
Meanwhile, Suh wondered why none of the Falcons' offensive linemen retaliated if Avril had truly kicked at Ryan. If the Falcons had kicked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Suh said, "all hell would have broken loose." In an interview with the Lions' web site, Avril backed Suh's assessment of the Falcons' offensive line. He said it is "mind-boggling" that the Lions were cast as a dirty team in comparison.
"You watch film of Atlanta's O-line and they're 20, 30 yards down the field cutting guys," Avril said. "You're running toward the pile and they're trying to clean you up. Everybody was protecting themselves. I guess since they couldn't clean us up in piles because guys were aware of it, they decide to make it like we're the dirty players."
Normally, a he-said, she-said gives us some comic relief during the monotony of an NFL season. But these allegations have come at a serious time in the career of Suh, and to a lesser extent, Avril.
A dirty reputation shouldn't change how anyone plays or limit his effectiveness. In some cases, in fact, it could help create a psychological advantage over opponents. But it's still a damaging stigma to carry because it implies your success has come outside of the rules, or at least the ethics of fair play. Few, if any, competitors want a stigmatic asterisk next to their achievements.
I imagine that's why Suh and Avril were so vehement Monday. There is a school of thought that suggests a response only gives further life to a one-sided story. But in this case, going silent would have been a tacit admission of guilt and provided another episode with which to tack the dirty tag on Suh.
As we discussed earlier, there is no evidence on the television copy that Avril got anywhere near Ryan nor of anyone reacting to something Suh might have said. I'm not sure if the Lions needed to publicize their thoughts on the Falcons' play. It sounded a little bit like, I'm dirty? No, you're dirty! But overall, it was important for Suh and Avril to stand up themselves. Good for them.