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Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster suspended 1 game for hit on Vontaze Burfict | TribLIVE.com
Steelers/NFL

Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster suspended 1 game for hit on Vontaze Burfict

In the wake of Monday night’s penalty- and injury-filled game between the Steelers and Bengals, it took less than 24 hours for the NFL to hand out a suspension to a player on each team.

Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cincinnati safety George Iloka were given one-game suspensions for their respective fourth-quarter illegal hits during the Steelers’ come-from-behind 23-20 victory.

In a release from the NFL, the league’s vice president of football operations, Jon Runyan, noted Smith-Schuster violated the league rules that prohibit “unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture” and “unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Smith-Schuster, who turned 21 last month, delivered a penalized, blindside block to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict then stood over him in an act that also drew a flag for taunting.

Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green called Smith-Schuster’s play “a dirty hit” that was “not called for.”

The letter Runyan wrote to Smith-Schuster to inform him of the suspension was released by the league. In it, Runyan noted “dangerous and unsportsmanlike acts.”

“You lined up a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area,” Runyan wrote. “You then ‘celebrated’ the play by standing over him and taunting him. The contact you made with your opponent placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury and could have been avoided. Your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player.”

Burfict, who delivered hits that caused season-ending injuries to Steelers stars Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in the past, was taken off the field on a stretcher after the play.

Smith-Schuster appealed his suspension, but it was upheld by appeals officer James Thrash, according to an NFL spokesman. Iloka also appealed, and his case will be heard Wednesday by appeals officer Derrick Brooks.

Brown was the target of Iloka’s hit on the tying touchdown with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left in Monday’s game. The NFL said Iloka’s hit violated its rule that prohibits “forcibly hitting a defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder.”

After the game, Brown said Iloka “hit me in the head as hard as he could. I was grateful I was able to hold on to the ball.”

Runyan wrote to Iloka: “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.”

Monday wasn’t Iloka’s first run-in with the Steelers. In 2015, he was fined $23,152 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on former tight end Heath Miller. Last season, an open-field hit on former Steelers tight end Ladarius Green literally ended Green’s career. Green did not play the rest of the season or playoffs and was released after a failed physical in the spring.

“The guy left his feet and hit me in the head,” Brown said of Iloka, adding “karma” was coming for him.

Brown also repeatedly said Burfict being subjected to a hit was karma. Brown was knocked out as the result of a Burfict helmet-to-helmet hit late in a wild-card playoff game in Cincinnati after the 2015 season. Brown missed the Steelers’ divisional-round game the following week, the only game of consequence he has missed in more than five years.

Burfict’s history with the Steelers runs deeper, including kicking fullback Roosevelt Nix during the teams’ October meeting this year.

Still, Smith-Schuster denied knowing it was Burfict when he delivered the hit after a reception by Bell. He also said he was “praying” for Burfict and acknowledged that the hit deserved a flag.

“All I saw was Le’Veon catch the ball,” Smith-Schuster said, “and I was aiming for the first person to tackle him, and I saw a Bengal jersey. I didn’t know it was him.

“I apologize for standing over him. That’s not me. I’m better that. It’s unsportsmanlike conduct, and I hope he feels better and gets well.”

The incidents involving Smith-Schuster and Ilokoa accounted for three of the nine personal foul penalties called during Monday’s game, the latest in a long line of chippy, hard-hitting meetings between the AFC North rivals in recent years.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.


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Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown pass, as the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka defend during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier is carted from the field after being injured during the first quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Referee Walt Anderson checks on Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier after he was injured during the first quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass during the fourth quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks for a open reciever against the Bengals in the first quarter.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster taunts the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict after a big hit during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Hines Ward helps Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster after he jammed his finger during warm-ups before a game against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster primps his hair during warm-ups before a game against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier is carted from the field after being injured during the first quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers kicker Chris Boswell celebrates with holder Jordan Berry and Cam Heyward after kicking the winning field goal as time expired against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver Antonio Brown arrives for the Bengals game Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster taunts the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict after a big hit during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Actor Tim Allen gets fired up before the Steelers Bengals game Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown pass, as the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka defend during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster lays out the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver Antonio Brown warms up in full uniform before a game against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Referee Walt Anderson checks on Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier after he was injured during the first quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a pass during the first quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster taunts the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict after a big hit during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd catches a pass between the Steelers' Sean Davis and Tyler Matakevich during the second quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier is carted from the field after being injured during the first quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals receiver A.J. Green catches a touchdown pass during the first quarter against the Steelers Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals receiver A.J. Green scores past the Steelers' Coty Sensabaugh during the second quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton talks with Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier as he is carted from the field after being injured during the first quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers linebacker Vince Williams sacks Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton as T.J. Watt looks on in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Shuster pulls in a catch in front of the Bengals' Darqueze Dennard in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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The Steelers' Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt sack Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver Antonio Brown celebrates a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Bengals on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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The Steelers' Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt sack Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster taunts the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict after a big hit during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers tight end Jesse James picks up a first down during the fourth quarter against the Bengals on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster lays out the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin celebrates after defeating the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers linebacker Vince Williams celebrates after defeating the Bengals on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell carries against the Bengals' Josh Shaw during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown pass, as the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka defend during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass during the fourth quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers kicker Chris Boswell celebrates with holder Jordan Berry and Cam Heyward after kicking the winning field goal as time expired against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown pass between Bengals defenders during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers kicker Chris Boswell boots the winning field goal as time expires against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers place kicker Chris Boswell watches as his 41-yard field goal splits the up rights as time runs out on the Bengals as the Steelers win 23-20 Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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The Steelers' Cam Heyward celebrates after defeating the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers linebacker Vince Williams kneels on the field, as teammates watch Ryan Shazier get medical attention after being injured during the first quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster lays out the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster taunts the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict after a big hit during the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd catches a pass between the Steelers' Sean Davis and Tyler Matakevich during the second quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a pass during the first quarter against the Bengals Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Steelers receiverAntonio Brown celebrates a first down catch in front of the Bengals' Adam Jones during the first quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Adam Jones of the Bengals intercepts a pass next to the Steelers Xavier Grimble during the first quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals receiver A.J. Green catches a touchdown pass during the first quarter against the Steelers Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals receiver A.J. Green scores past the Steelers' Coty Sensabaugh during the second quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals receiver A.J. Green catches a touchdown pass during the first quarter against the Steelers Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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The Bengals' Tyler Kroft catches a pass over Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt during the first quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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Bengals running back Giovani Bernard carries past the Steelers' Mike Hilton during the first quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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