An "element of viciousness has crept into what was already a violent game" during the past month of the NFL season, causing it to supersede the "great play that brought people to it in the first place," according to Cindy Boren of the WASHINGTON POST. The day-after conversations "now center on fights over necklaces and nasty hits," with Monday night’s Steelers-Bengals game the most recent example. Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict was "stretchered off the field to undergo concussion evaluation after an illegal hit" by Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. That was followed by Bengals S George Iloka hitting Steelers WR Antonio Brown "in the face mask on a game-tying touchdown." Recently, the league has seen Bengals WR A.J. Green fined for putting Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey "in a chokehold," while Raiders WR Michael Crabtree and Broncos CB Aqib Talib were suspended after getting into a fight. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski on Sunday "delivered what might be the ugliest hit of the season" when he dove on Bills CB Tre’Davious White, who was "already face down on the turf after he intercepted a Tom Brady pass." Gronkowski's hit "sent White into concussion protocol and resulted in a one-game suspension." The majority of play over the past month has been "within what we consider reasonable as we watch the game of football." Boren: "But there is an element of thuggery and ugliness that simply has to go" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 12/5).
TOUGH TO WATCH: In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty writes the "violence at Paul Brown Stadium" on Monday during Steelers-Bengals "went from routine to frightening to uncomfortable to watch." Smith-Schuster and Iloka each received one-game suspensions for their hits, though Iloka's ban was overturned today. That came after Steelers LB Ryan Shazier was carted off the field in the first quarter after being "unable to move his legs" following a tackle. Daugherty: "Is this entertainment? Is the NFL better when its players deliberately try to injure each other, then gloat about it when they do?" There was "nothing entertaining about watching a street fight dressed up in shoulder pads" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 12/6). In Pittsburgh, Matt Rosenberg wrote Steelers-Bengals "left many wondering whether this was football at all." Rosenberg: "If it was, is it time to question everything we think about it?" The game was "among the NFL's worst nightmares: A game that, by nature of the teams involved, was going to garner a large audience anyway became one of the more brutal, violent games the league has seen." The game was also on "MNF" and "seen in primetime by a captive national audience." The NFL is "now tasked with trying to salvage a tarnished image stemming from the events at Paul Brown Stadium" (TRIBLIVE.com, 12/5). ABC's T.J. Holmes noted Steelers-Bengals was supposed to be a "showcase game for the NFL, and this is what the country got to see." The NFL is a "great game, but it's overshadowed now by the brutality" ("GMA," ABC, 12/5). CBS Sports Network's Adam Schein said the game was a "bad look for the NFL" ("Time To Schein," CBSSN, 12/5). ESPN's Bob Ley noted images from Monday's game have been "burned into the national memory" ("OTL," ESPN, 12/5).
VIOLENCE HARD TO IGNORE...: In N.Y., Evan Grossman writes under the header, "NFL Violence Should Be More Off-Putting Than Anthem Kneeling." It is "impossible to ignore the carnage of the game may be pushing some people away." The "violence and lack of respect between" Steelers and Bengals players also was "clearly evident" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/6). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes, "If you are like me, you love the game but find it increasingly sickening to watch." Fans "enjoy the physicality but have become nauseated by the threat of concussion, and angered when fools" like Smith-Schuster or Gronkowski "behave like animals" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 12/6). ESPN's Sarah Spain said, "What we're watching is not just football. It's the deterioration of a sport in terms of how people are going to watch it. You look at that game and how difficult it was for us to stick with it" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/5). The Ringer's Kevin Clark said, "If we have kids, I don't know how we say, after watching that stuff, 'Okay, you can go play. I don't care.' It certainly gives you pause" ("The Ringer NFL Show," THERINGER.com, 12/5). CBSSPORTS.com's John Breech wrote as for Steelers-Bengals, "If you were watching the game and thinking, 'I've seen less violence in a UFC match,' I would have to agree" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/5).
...BUT THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE WANT: ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "I love football for the violence. Most people do. They'll lie now and say they don't, but they do" ("PTI," ESPN, 12/5). ESPN's Cian Fahey: "Was too much violence bad for football fans? No, that's what they're there for. We can come up here and say, 'That's a disgrace, this is something we need to outlaw.' But we signed up for this. Every football fan is enabling this" ("SportsNation," ESPN, 12/5). Showtime's Ray Lewis said, "I get what people are saying, but this is the game we all play. I think we've got to let some of this just be football" ("Inside the NFL," Showtime, 12/5). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson wrote the "central dilemma" for the NFL is the same as its "central lure." Adelson: "It's brutal and dangerous. ... We are drawn and repulsed, and we are drawn because we are repulsed" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/5). ESPN's Scott Van Pelt said, "As the league tries so hard to figure out what it wants to be moving forward, it cannot run from the fact its popularity over the years owes much to elements from Monday’s game" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/5).
TIMES HAVE CHANGED: ESPN's Louis Riddick noted fans need to "open their eyes and recognize and admit the fact that the game has changed for a number of different reasons." Riddick: "The game needs to evolve from a level of savagery that used to exist … and the players need to recognize that. If they don't recognize it, then (the) game’s going to suffer for many different reasons” ("OTL," ESPN, 12/5). NBC Sports Bay Area's Dave Feldman noted this is not "20 years ago," and football "can't be played the same way." Johnson: "If they don't enforce it in a certain way, the players are still going to play that way" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 12/5). In DC, Mark Maske writes Steelers-Bengals was "played with a viciousness that once defined the NFL." But the problem is those days "are gone." They "should be long gone, in fact," as the NFL "cannot afford to be a platform for wicked helmet-to-helmet hits that once were celebrated but now are illegal." Meanwhile, ESPN's crew, led by analyst Jon Gruden, was able to "put the game in the proper perspective and context." Gruden and announcer Sean McDonough "lamented and decried the on-field events Monday night rather than glorified them" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/6). ESPN's Spain said Gruden "understands that this game is going nowhere and dying a fast death if they don't adjust" ("Highly Questionable," ESPN, 12/5).
PLAYER NEED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: WEEI.com's Alex Reimer wrote at a certain point, responsibility "must also fall on the players." It is "insulting to assume they’re incapable of thinking rationally on the field, even when emotions are running high" (WEEI.com, 12/5). NBC Sports Bay Area's Ray Ratto said, "Basically it was players saying, 'We don't care about our own safety because we certainly don't care about yours.' It's hard to make the case that owners should clean the game up if players aren't willing to do the same thing" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 12/5). The WASHINGTON POST's Maske writes the NFL "can only do so much." The players -- all players -- "must do their part as well" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/6). The Colorado Springs Gazette's Woody Paige said, "The players themselves need to actually get together and say, 'This is how we protect ourselves'" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/5).
PRIMETIME PLAYERS: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said that games like Monday's are "intentionally placed in prime time to maximize their appeal." In Pittsburgh, Jerry DiPaola noted the Steelers and Bengals have played each other three times on "MNF" since '10. Roethlisberger: "The NFL, sometimes, they'll take any publicity they can get, good or bad. They put it in prime time knowing that it's a physical game. Some people tune in just to see the physicality of the game, the hits, what's going to happen" (TRIBLIVE.com, 12/5). But CBSSN's Schein wondered what the NFL expected "when you put the Bengals and Steelers on national TV." He said, "The NFL got it wrong by putting this game on national TV. It was dirty, it was ugly, it was awful and it was predictable" ("Time To Schein," CBSSN, 12/5).