CINCINNATI -- Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka received one-game suspensions from the NFL for violations of safety-related playing rules in Monday night's game. Both players are expected to appeal.
Smith-Schuster leveled Burfict as the latter pursued Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell on a 12-yard gain with 7:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. The wideout then stood over Burfict, with Smith-Schuster later admitting that he "messed up" by taunting the fallen linebacker since it cost his team 15 yards.
Jon Runyan, the NFL vice president of football operations, wrote in a letter to Smith-Schuster that he violated a rule that prohibits unnecessary contact with a player who is in a defenseless posture. Runyan also took issue as Smith-Schuster "celebrated" the hit, writing "your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player."
"He shouldn't have stood over him," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "You coach off the video. The fact that he stood over him. ... That's not reflective of the sportsman he is."
Iloka's suspension stemmed from a hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown after he hauled in a six-yard touchdown pass in the end zone from Ben Roethlisberger to tie the score 20-20 with 3:51 left in the game.
"I was just trying to jar it out of there," Iloka told Bengals.com. "There wasn't anything to it. They threw the ball, saw the corner right behind him, you're just trying to get the ball out ... I was just trying to jar out the ball the best I can. Stuff happens fast. That's all I was trying to do."
In his letter to Iloka notifying him of the suspension, Runyan stated that Iloka violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7 which prohibits forcibly hitting a defenseless player's head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder.
Runyan wrote: "On a play which began with 3:55 left in the game, you violently struck a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area. 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."
When asked about Smith-Sghuster's hit, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green said, "It's not called for. We already play a dangerous sport. We all put our lives on the line when we come out here every week, and you don't want anything like that to happen to a player, no matter what team you play for or how big the rivalry is. We have to protect each other. We already play a high-injury sport."