Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cincinnati safety George Iloka have been suspended one game for their actions in Monday night’s 23-20 Steelers win.
Both players drew 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties in the final 7 minutes of the game, beginning with the Pittsburgh rookie wide receiver, who was flagged twice on the same play.
Smith-Schuster's illegal blindside block on Vontaze Burfict resulted in the Bengals linebacker leaving the field on a backboard on a cart with a concussion.
The receiver then stood over the injured Burfict taunting him, drawing another 15-yard penalty, although only the taunting was enforced.
Five plays later on Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s game-tying touchdown pass to Antonio Brown, Iloka hit the Steelers receiver helmet-to-helmet in the end zone.
NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan issued the suspensions. In his letter to Iloka, Runyan wrote, “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.”
In his letter to Smith-Schuster, Runyan wrote, “You are suspended for the dangerous and unsportsmanlike acts you committed during the fourth quarter of last night’s game. Specifically, with 7:10 remaining, on a passing play to a running back, you lined up a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area. 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.”
Smith-Schuster apologized for actions against Burfict on Twitter after the game, adding “praying he gets better.”
At least one Pittsburgh player defended Iloka on Twitter, with safety Mike Mitchell writing that the Bengnals safety is “a good friend” and “not a dirty player.”
Both players are expected to appeal to their suspensions. They have three days to do so.
If Iloka’s appeal is denied, he will be the third Bengals player suspended this year. Cornerback Adam Jones served a one-game suspension for his actions following a Jan. 3 arrest, and Burfict was supended for the first five games for his preseason hit on Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman, although it was reduced to three games on appeal.
Burfict also served a three-game suspension to start the 2016 season for repeated violations of the league’s player safety rules, culiminating with his hit on Pittsburgh’s Brown in the 2015 wildcard playoff game.
And he was fined again this season for actions against the Steelers, when he kicked fullback Roosevelt Nix on the first play of the game, drawing a $12,154 penalty.