Updated:PITTSBURGH,None — The Cleveland Browns will let the NFL go after Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison's head.
If there's going to be retaliation or punishment against the hard-hitting linebacker, the league will have to dish it out. However, at least one Cleveland player hopes any penalty is severe.
One day after Harrison knocked Cleveland wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi out of the game with vicious, concussion-inducing, helmet-to-helmet hits, Browns tight end Benjamin Watson said he believes Harrison should receive the harshest discipline possible.
"I hope the NFL takes care of him with the max. Whatever the max is, I hope they give it to him," Watson said Monday.
Harrison sent both Cribbs and Massaquoi off the field in a seven-minute stretch of Pittsburgh's 28-10 win over the Browns on Sunday.
Harrison first drilled Cribbs in the left side of the helmet on a running play, a shot an NFL spokesman said was technically legal because Cribbs was a runner, but one that left Cleveland's best player face down and unconscious on the turf.
"I thought Cribbs was asleep," Harrison said. "A hit like that geeks you up, especially when you find out the guy is not really hurt, he's just sleeping. He's knocked out, but he's going to be OK."
Moments later, Massaquoi caught a short pass before he was blasted by Harrison, who appeared to launch himself at the wideout and deliver a crushing blow.
Neither play drew a penalty.
"I don't want to injure anybody," Harrison said. "There's a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people."
Watson feels Harrison's hit on Massaquoi went beyond acceptable limits.
"The one against Mohamed was illegal," he said. "I can't judge his character, I can judge his conduct. It was an illegal hit. He led with his head. He hit Mo right in the head. He dove at his head. It was an illegal play. Whether he meant to hurt him or not, I can't comment on that.It was illegal and the league should take care of him."
The two hits came on a day of seemingly extreme violence around the league, with several players suffering head injuries. To combat the problem and prevent serious injuries, executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson told The Associated Press the league is considering suspending players for illegal hits.
A few of the Browns don't believe suspensions would be a deterrent to Harrison or any other big hitters.
"I don't think he should be suspended," Browns running back Peyton Hillis said. "The fines they dish out are enough punishment. Trust me, I don't think he meant to hurt two people like everybody thinks he did."
Browns coach Eric Mangini isn't sure when he'll have Cribbs or Massaquoi back. Both players are being treated for concussions, and depending on the severity of their injuries, they could miss another game.
If there was one positive on Sunday, it was that Cleveland's medical staff assessed the two injured players and kept them from going back on the field. Before the league raised awareness on head injuries in light of studies that showed concussions can lead to dementia and brain disease, it's possible Cribbs and Massaquoi could have talked their way back into the game.
"It's the right thing," Mangini said. "It's hard from a coaching perspective. It's hard from a competitive perspective, but it's right from a human perspective."
Publicly, at least, some of the Browns are taking the high road on Harrison's hits.
Fullback Lawrence Vickers, perhaps the club's hardest hitter, said "no reply" when asked about the hits Harrison put on his teammates. Hillis and linebacker Matt Roth, two more of Cleveland's tough guys, refused to label the tackles as excessive, chalking them up to the sport's physical nature.
Only Watson was willing to criticize Harrison.
Mangini was asked if he thought Harrison was a dirty player.
"James Harrison was the defensive MVP of the league," he said. "He's a good football player. He plays hard, he's physical, he's tough against the run, he pass rushes well. I respect the guy as a football player."
One reason for the Browns' reaction could be that they don't want to be deemed hypocrites. Earlier this season, rookie safety T.J. Ward was slapped with a $15,000 fine for his hit on Cincinnati wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Ward appealed the penalty and the Browns defended his tackle as "part of the game."
Big hits are part of the NFL's allure, and Watson knows any attempt to curtail them will be met with resistance.
"At the end of the day it's football and it's what people want to see," Watson said. "It's why the game is so popular, it's why we get paid great salaries to play this game, because there's a desire in the American public to see this type of violence."
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