The Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly fighting for their playoff lives. Having lost three-straight games, the Steelers now sit at 7-7 on the season, and if the playoffs began today, Pittsburgh would be on the outside looking in. They face a crucial three-game stretch to close out the season, starting with a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday.
However, they will now be without safety Damontae Kazee, as the defensive back has been suspended for the rest of the season — including any potential playoff games — by the league.
The suspension stems from a hit Kazee put on Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. during the Steelers’ game this past weekend against Indianapolis. During the second quarter, Pittman ran a deep crossing route, working from right-to-left. Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew targeted Pittman with a throw, and Kazee broke on the ball and leveled the receiver.
You can see the play here:
Kazee was flagged for a personal foul on the play, and was also ejected. Pittman was taken to the sideline and quickly ruled out with a concussion.
In issuing the suspension, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan released a lengthy statement, noting that Kazee was being suspended for a violation of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9(b)(1) which states that it is a foul if a player “forcibly hits the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, even if the initial contact is lower than the players neck, and regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him.”
In addition, that rule holds that “[a] player who initiates contact against a defenseless opponent is responsible for avoiding an illegal act. A standard of strict liability applies for any contact against an opponent, even if his body position is in motion, and irrespective of any acts by him, such as ducking his head or curling up his body in anticipation of contact.” (Emphasis added).
This “strict liability” language is critical, because it means that the league does not need to find that Kazee was fault, he is going to be held responsible simply because that kind of hit occurred.
Runyan then cited his letter to Kazee, in which he wrote in part “[y]ou had an unobstructed path to your opponent and the illegal contact could have been avoided. Your actions were flagrant, and as a result, you were disqualified from the game.”
Runyan also cited Kazee’s “multiple prior violations of rules designed to protect the health and safety of players.” He has been fined five times this season for violations, most recently a $11,806 fine for a hit on Bengals tight end Irv Smith Jr.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Kazee has the right to appeal the suspension. Any potential appeal would be decided by either Derrick Brooks or James Thrash, the two individuals jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA to hear matters related to on-the-field discipline.