PITTSBURGH — Maurkice Pouncey is free to get back to work. The Pittsburgh Steelers center is also free of regrets.
“The money was worth it, trust me,” Pouncey said Wednesday after returning from a two-game suspension for kicking and punching Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett during a late-game brawl on Nov. 14.
Pouncey (University of Florida) kicked and punched Garrett repeatedly after Garrett ripped off Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet then hit him in the head with it in the final seconds of a 21-7 Cleveland victory. Pouncey raced to Rudolph’s defense, attacking Garrett while Garrett was being held on the ground by Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro.
The league initially hit Pouncey with a three-game ban but reduced it to two on appeal. His teammates rallied to his defense, sporting “Free Pouncey” sweatshirts before Sunday’s rematch with the Browns then stopping by his house to award him the game ball following a 20-13 victory that gave Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes a significant boost.
“I think the guys knew, my teammates know I ride with you no matter what,” Pouncey said. “A lot of great came out of it.”
The Steelers (7-5) beat Cincinnati and Cleveland with B.J. Finney filling in. Pouncey credited Finney, who will be a free agent in March, for earning “a lot of money for himself” while Pouncey served his suspension.
“He played outstanding, man, honestly,” Pouncey said.
Pouncey, meanwhile, sat at home watching his teammates on TV. It wasn’t an entirely new experience. He missed all but a handful of snaps in 2013 after tearing an ACL in the opener against Tennessee, and sat out all of 2015 after breaking his leg during the preseason.
This time, however, was different. He would send his teammates supportive texts but otherwise stayed away. He would flip on the TV and run on the treadmill during games to simulate — in some small way — game-like conditions. The suspension forced him to work out at local gyms instead of the team’s practice facility. The fans he ran into had no issues with his response to Garrett.
“A couple said, ‘Add another kick, add another punch,’” Pouncey said. “But it was just funny to hear people. Everywhere I go, too, everyone goes like this, they put their fists up.”
Pouncey doesn’t believe Garrett’s allegation that Rudolph used a racial slur just before their altercation started, an allegation Rudolph has repeatedly denied.
“C’mon, man, that’s not true at all,” Pouncey said. “But we are past that, honestly. You guys know Mason, you guys have been around him a long time … if you’re a racist, it would have been exposed.”
Rudolph lost the starting job in Pouncey’s absence to backup Devlin “Duck” Hodges. Hodges will get the nod again Sunday when Pittsburgh visits Arizona. Hodges called Pouncey “the ultimate teammate.”
One eager to help Pittsburgh’s patched together offense continue an unlikely playoff push.
“They played amazingly, two-game winning streak, that was awesome.,” Pouncey said. “The guys went out there, they protected well, they ran the ball well, so hey, they didn’t need me.”
Player of Week
Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap was named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week, an honor that wasn’t too surprising given his performance against the Jets.
Dunlap recorded seven tackles, a pass deflection, and most importantly three sacks. He looked like a one man wrecking crew at times, and he was a huge reason why the Jets could only muster six points against Cincinnati’s defense.
It’s the third time Dunlap has earned this award in his career. He is already the Bengals career sack leader with 78 (closely followed by defensive tackle Geno Atkins with 75.5).