I get that Lions-Falcons was the closest thing to a matchup of two winning teams yesterday, and that both are likely to be vying for the same limited wild card slots, so we should have expected a competitive game, bordering on the chippy. But what we got—Matt Ryan getting his ankle rolled up, and two Lions linesman called out for gleefully bathing in a fountain of his blood—is really stretching the definition of "controversy."
Ryan would be okay and just miss two snaps. But in the Falcons locker room after the game, his teammates were eager to talk about the poor taste shown by Ndamukong Suh (no friend to quarterbacks) and Cliff Avril. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"I had respect for Suh before the game," [Todd] McClure said. "But when Matt was on the ground, the things he was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for. There are certain things you don't do. [He said], ‘Get the cart' and several other things that I can't repeat."
Roddy White said, "I lost a whole lot of respect for 90 [Suh] today, and also 92 [Cliff Avril], the [bleep] they were doing when Matt got hurt. That was unacceptable. … Like 92 was kicking [Ryan's] feet, saying, ‘Get him off the field.' We don't do stuff like that. We don't rally over guys when they get hurt. It was just inappropriate behavior. I mean, ‘Get the cart'? Are you serious? Come on. When you compete, you never want to see a guy get hurt."
Shall we take this in order?
Absurdity No. 1: this probably never happened. Take a look at the video up top. Do you see Avril kicking the feet of a downed Matt Ryan? Sure, the clip cuts out before he's helped off the field, but unless Avril burst his way into a circle of trainers just to put the boots to a prone quarterback, WWE-style, it's pretty clear that any taunting was confined to the verbal. But if that's the case, if Suh and Avril were saying unrepeatable-in-polite-company things, none of the Falcons appeared to take umbrage at the time.
Absurdity No. 2: Cliff Avril's defense. Avril took to Twitter to deny taunting Ryan, but it wasn't the most convincing defense. "If we want to talk about dirty players look at the film," he wrote, "and see who prides themselves on being durty." This is either a reference to the 13-year-old Dirty Bird Falcons era, or Avril saying he shouldn't get in trouble because the other guy played rough too, mom.
Absurdity No. 3: Pretending Suh and Avril shouldn't be happy to see Chris Redman in the game. A defensive player's job is to keep the other team from gaining yards and scoring. Presumably, that job becomes a lot easier when the opposing team's star quarterback isn't playing. So if they were giggling like schoolgirls while Ryan rolled around on the ground in pain, I think we can assume they were less thrilled by the injured human being than by the fact that Chris Redman was coming into the game.
The NFL is a strange, strange sport where the tackler is supposed to hit the guy with the ball as hard as he can—but not hurt him! We don't want injuries. We just want bonecrushing hits and twisted limbs and armored 300-pound guys trying to pancake little quarterbacks, but then we want everyone to get up happy and healthy and hug and go enjoy their enriching home lives. It's a lovely thought. But if there's any cognitive dissonance, it's on the part of the viewer, not the player. Suh and Avril know exactly what their endgame is—an out-of-commission quarterback—and you'll forgive them if they get a little excited when they achieve it.