Pittsburgh Steelers rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster earned a flag for a brutal crackback block that knocked Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict out of Monday night's game. The receiver earned another penalty for taunting after standing over the defender.
The league suspended Smith-Schuster one game Tuesday without pay for violating safety-related playing rules.
Prior to the one-game suspension being announced, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he took more issue with the taunting than the hit.
"I haven't had an opportunity to see the television copy often times particularly in HD -- that provides the best case scenario," Tomlin told reporters. "I'll stand by my statement last night that his actions after the hit are more disturbing than the hit itself. Often times plays like that are teachable moments. When you look at it you have an opportunity to talk about ways you can be safer and so forth. He is a better sportsman than he displayed after the block and you got to acknowledge that. He's got to work hard so people understand the type of man he is from a sportsmanship standpoint and that's not something that's going to happen overnight. That's just the reality of plays like that."
Smith-Schuster apologized after the game for the block and standing over Burfict.
Monday night's game included several ruthless hits, including a helmet-to-helmet after Antonio Brown's game-tying touchdown catch. Per NFL Research, the Steelers-Bengals tilt produced seven "extracurricular" penalties, the most in a game this season -- includes combined unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer, and taunting penalties.
Many decried the nature of the physical game, including ex-Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who tweeted Monday night that the contest was "terrible for the NFL and the game of football overall."
Tomlin was asked about such comments Tuesday.
"I'm not going to react to comments or opinions by others. I can stand up here all day and do that," he said. "I will acknowledge there were some unfortunate things in that game that we don't need in our game by both sides. My job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers is to work hard to minimize those things that were involved in before they occur. They did last night in an instance of two we'll make an accounting of that work hard to make sure it doesn't happen again. We have a responsibility to make this game as safe as it possibly can be. It's my opinion as someone who's highly involved in the process behind the scenes as a competition committee member and as a guy who has been in this league a long time - I take that responsibility personally. I think we work hard to improve in those areas. I think the game is safer than it's been but that being said we still have room for growth. That's my approach or mentality when I think about it. I also think there were some tremendous displays of competitive spirit in play last night that probably won't get talked about as much as it should. Guys, individually and collectively on both sides, digging down and performing and performing at a high level. I think that's always an element of the matchup as well that doesn't get the attention it deserves."