The end of Thursday night's Browns-Steelers game set social media on fire as Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph and Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett got into an altercation that saw Garrett rip Rudolph's helmet off and club him over the head with it when the quarterback charged him.
Garrett was suspended indefinitely by the NFL, severely impacting the AFC playoff race and the Browns' chances of making the postseason.
While everyone was quick to vilify Garrett for the inexcusable action, Rudolph hardly is without fault. After getting tackled to the ground with five seconds left in the Browns' 21-7 win, Rudolph tried to rip Garrett's helmet off and kicked him before charging him and setting off the melee.
Former 49ers defensive tackle and current NBC Sports analyst Ian Williams isn't excusing Garrett's behavior, it was dangerous and reckless. But Williams believes Rudolph also should be held accountable for instigating the entire fracas with his childish actions.
"I am not condoning what Myles Garrett did last night," Williams said Friday. "I am not OK with what he did last night and he knows it. People know it. He knows he was in the wrong. He did something wrong, you get punished for it. Everybody's pointing the finger at him like, 'Oh, he's the bad guy. Oh, Myles Garrett, he's dirty, he's bad.' There was no reason, absolutely no reason for Mason Rudolph to try to take his helmet off like that. No reason. You playing football, bro. What do you expect? Yeah, you're going to get hit. You're going to get tackled.
"We tired of quarterbacks being able to get rid of the ball like that or them not calling you down and then you get away from a sack, Then you make a big play and I get my a-- chewed. 'Myles, why didn't you take him to the ground?' So Mason's all mad: 'Yo, I got taken to the ground, I'm mad. I got my a-- knocked out a couple weeks ago from Earl Thomas. So, I'm a little angry now, so if anyone touches me or takes me down I'm going to show out. I ain't going to let them punk me again.' Bro, we understand. We don't want that to happen to anybody, we clean players."
It's easy to judge Garrett's actions based on the severity of them, but Rudolph's anger at a clean NFL hit is what sparked the fracas and he, in Williams' view, should be held to account.
"As soon as [Rudolph] hit the ground, he's over here trying to take off the helmet of Myles," Williams said. "Literally, trying to twist it and rip it off ... To twist it and try to pull it off? That hurts. So, you know, Myles is pissed and obviously he's going to win that battle. Everyone is like, 'Well, he's bigger.' Duh! He's going to win that battle. 'Punk little quarterback going to try me like that. I'll take your helmet off. You ain't going to try me like that.' So, he took the helmet. Meanwhile, Mason is kicking him. Kicking him in the groin. Probably kicked him in the area.
"He gets the helmet off and he's walking away. The offensive lineman [David] DeCastro is holding him and Myles is kind of like done with it. He was about to drop the helmet and then here comes old little Mason Rudolph. All angry, Want to come out of nowhere ... try to run up on him and like, 'Bro, what you expect?'"
Williams understands emotions will get the best of everyone while on the football field, but you can't ban one member of the melee and give the other a slap on the wrist.
"Mason should get suspended, too. Or fined. Actually, both," Williams said. "He instigated the whole thing, and then the fact he would try to take a player's helmet off after he did nothing wrong ... Like bro, it was a simple tackle. Did you get mad that you got tackled with 20 seconds left in the game? Is that what it was, Mason? And the fact that he gets disciplined after ... No, he should have been disciplined just as the list came out. But he wasn't, it was after the fact.
"If you get in trouble at school and y'all get taken to the principal's office and the main dude or girl that started it is sitting in class and they are like, 'We'll deal with him later,' while you are sitting in the principal's office. Like, no, he started the whole thing, he should be in here with us."
While Garrett, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi suspensions of varying lengths for the altercation, Rudolph reportedly only will receive a fine.
The Browns now must try to fight for the playoffs without their best player, while the Steelers quarterback gets off relatively scott free.
Although, with the way Rudolph played Thursday, him being on the field might not be the best thing for the Steelers' playoff hopes.