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NFL suspends Steelers LB James Harrison one game for hit on Browns QB Colt McCoy; agent files appeal

By Nate Ulrich Published: December 13, 2011
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, right, sits on the bench during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The NFL has suspended Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison one game after he used his helmet to deliver a concussion-inducing hit to the face mask of Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on Thursday night at Heinz Field, the league announced this morning.

Bill Parise, Harrison's agent, said he has filed an appeal to the league office on behalf of his client.

Harrison argued he shouldn't be suspended because he hit McCoy after the latter left the pocket and held the ball as if he was going to run with a little less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter. But McCoy passed the ball to running back Montario Hardesty. Harrison, who's pictured to the left, then hit McCoy and was penalized for roughing the passer.

Last week, the NFL issued the following rule explanation concerning the play: "When a passer is outside the pocket area, as in the case of Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy [Thursday] night, he is still afforded the protection of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13 (3), which prohibits defensive players from using their helmet against a passer who is in a defenseless posture, including by 'forcibly hitting the passer’s head or neck area with the helmet or face mask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the passer by encircling or grasping him.'"

Several Browns players, including offensive lineman Tony Pashos, wide receiver Josh Cribbs and tight end Evan Moore have expressed their disapproval of Harrison's hit on McCoy.

Was it a cheap shot?

"When it’s my teammate, yes," Pashos said Monday. "You know? It’s one of those things where who knows? It’s football. It is. But this modern-era football, we’re trying to stop that, right? I mean 10 years ago is that a cheap shot? Is it even a question or are we buying posters for that? But nowadays, this era of football, you see the commissioner and everybody trying to eliminate that stuff to prevent some very serious injuries that could happen to us down the road."

The league outlined the following in its announcement: It was Harrison's fifth illegal hit against a quarterback in the past three seasons. In addition to four fines for illegal hits against quarterbacks in 2009 and 2010, Harrison also was fined twice for unnecessary roughness during that period. Harrison totaled six fines in that two-year period. The 2011 League Policies for Players manual states: "Players who were fined for violations in 2009 or 2010, and whose fines were either partially or fully upheld, will be considered second and/or repeat offenders under this policy."

Harrison can't practice or visit the team's facilities during the suspension. He is scheduled to be reinstated on Dec. 20.

Last season, Cribbs and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi suffered concussions in the same game after being hit by Harrison, an Akron native who was a teammate of Cribbs at Kent State University. Harrison was fined $75,000 for striking Massaquoi, but the penalty was later reduced to $50,000.

Of course, the Browns' decision to let McCoy re-enter the game after the hit has become the biggest story stemming from the incident. Representatives of the NFL and NFL Players Association are meeting with the Browns today to discuss the matter.

For more on the way the Browns handled the situation, check out the following stories: 1. Coach Pat Shurmur says the Browns followed protocol but declines to specify whether McCoy was tested for a concussion before returning to action; 2. Marla Ridenour column -- The Browns' dysfunction is evident in wake of Harrison's big hit on McCoy.

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