ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Ndamukong Suh’s reputation for being a nasty player was born as an NFL rookie.
Suh slammed two quarterbacks to the ground by grabbing their helmets two years ago, and his image became even more notorious last season when he infamously stomped on an opponent.
Just when the Detroit Lions defensive tackle started to improve his ability to play the game cleanly this season, he had a setback.
But if you think he’s contrite, guess again.
The NFL fined Suh $30,000 on Wednesday for unnecessary roughness because he kicked Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin area. The previous day, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league didn’t suspend him because it couldn’t reach a judgment on his intent.
Schaub shouldn’t hold his breath waiting to hear Suh say he’s sorry.
“I was dragged to the ground,” Suh said. “A lot of things happen to me.
“It’s part of the game.”
Suh was on his chest after being taken down by an offensive lineman when his left cleat hit Schaub below the belt in Detroit’s loss to Houston last Thursday.
“I just thought it was very Suh-like to give a little extension there at the end,” Texans linebacker Connor Barwin said.
For the first time, Suh tried to explain what happened.
“It’s a crazy play, it’s one that unfortunately happened,” he said. “I didn’t even realize it until the end of the game, when I see my Twitter feed, I see my friends telling me about it. Other than that, I can’t do much more about it. I was being dragged to the ground and my foot inadvertently hit the man.
“But it’s over with and I am moving forward and getting ready to play the Colts.”
Detroit (4-7) will have Suh on the field when it hosts Indianapolis (7-4) because he dodged another suspension from the NFL. His reputation, though, has taken another hit.
“Certainly the perception in the NFL is he’s a very dirty player,” Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas said. “The perception among players is that he’s not very well liked. The perception among the fans is starting to be the same.
“It’s one thing to play hard and have physical hits in the course of a game or be an aggressive player, but it’s another thing to take just blatant cheap shots all the time.”
The NFL suspended Suh for two games last season after he stomped on Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith in a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving Day. Suh said sorry to Dietrich-Smith personally for stepping on his right arm on purpose and has shown remorse publicly for what he did a year ago.
“I think I’m always going to be punished some form or fashion for last Thanksgiving,” Suh said. “I apologized for it and I will continue to apologize for it. It’s something that happened, a mistake that I made. I’m living up to it and I’ll continue to move past it. Some people may not, some people will and some people will teeter-totter back and forth depending on whatever the situation is.”
Suh has been fined in previous seasons for roughing up QBs: Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Cleveland’s Jake Delhomme. He easily cut the checks because he’ll make $40 million guaranteed — with a chance to get paid as much as $68 million — in a five-year contract signed after Detroit drafted him No. 2 overall in 2010.
Schaub refused to talk about the play — or Suh — after last week’s game and declined to say much about it or him again Wednesday. Schaub insisted it didn’t matter to him that Suh avoided a suspension and only got a fine.
“Don’t really care,” Schaub said.
Cutler did choose to chime in on the 6-foot-4, 307-pound Suh, who has ferociously knocked him down multiple times and once finished off a tackle by twisting and ripping his helmet off.
“It seems like he’s always in this predicament every five, six, seven games,” Cutler said. “You have to be aware of him when he’s playing football. He’s a tough competitor. He plays hard.
“Sometimes, he goes overboard.”
In a preseason game two years ago, Suh grabbed Delhomme’s face mask, twisted it, wrapped his arms around his helmet and slammed him to the ground.
“What he did to me as a rookie and how he hit Cutler hard earlier this year were just aggressive plays,” Delhomme told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, adding that he’s likely going to stay retired in Louisiana. “But there’s no place in the game for kicking Schaubie like he did or stomping that guy last year on Thanksgiving.”
Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene, who was also regarded as a nasty player in the NFL, told the AP last year that he hoped Suh’s reputation wouldn’t be tarnished forever for what he did last Thanksgiving.
Greene said then that he wanted to talk to Suh about their shared experiences as interior defensive linemen, and they have connected.
“I spoke to him,” Suh said softly before answering a slew of questions from reporters following Wednesday’s practice.
Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson probably talks to Suh more than anyone else and said his close friend is misunderstood.
“I’ve heard people call him self-centered and arrogant, but if you take the time to get to know him, you’ll see a different side of him and find out that he’s a cool guy,” Jackson said. “People are going to have perceptions of him because of the way he came into the league with some aggressive plays that nobody saw before.
“But look at a guy like Brodrick Bunkley. He kicked a guy in the head and we don’t hear much about that.”
The NFL hasn’t suspended Bunkley, a New Orleans defensive tackle, for his boot to the back of San Francisco lineman Alex Boone’s helmet in the final minutes of a game Sunday.
Since Suh broke into the league in 2010, when he was the only rookie on the All-Pro team, he leads all defensive linemen with nine personal fouls and is tied for fifth with 19 penalties, according to STATS LLC.
He drew most of those flags in his first two years. His only infraction this season has been one encroachment penalty.
The Lions have already lost more games this year than they did in 2011, and for a second straight season, Suh is falling short of his production as a rookie.
When Detroit was winning or Suh was racking up sacks, he was regarded as a talent. Now that the Lions are losing and he’s struggling statistically, Suh’s rep compounds his problems.
So what’s he thinking?
“I can’t really fish into that,” he said. “Too much energy to even look at it and digest all that.”