John Niyo: Lions’ Ndamukong Suh goes on defense to protect reputation


John Niyo

Detroit Ndamukong Suh had a lot to say Monday.

But nothing said it better than this.

“If I’m not gonna protect myself,” the Lions all-Pro defensive tackle mused, “then nobody else is going to.”

That, as much as any statement — alleged or otherwise, heard or unspoken — might explain what he’s thinking these days, both on and off the field.

Because he’s being asked to wage a war on both fronts, no matter how understandably reluctant he is to admit it. When he’s not fighting opponents double teams in the trenches — and the cheap shots that inevitably come with them — he finds himself fighting, or at least being asked to fight, a perception that he’s a dirty player, fueled by postgame comments from the Falcons after a 23-16 loss at Ford Field.

Suh and teammate Cliff Avril were accused by Falcons players of taunting and trash-talking on the field when Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan went down what initially looked to be a serious leg injury in the game. (Ryan did return to the game the next series.)

Receiver Roddy White told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he “lost a whole lot of respect for” both players for “the (expletive) they were doing when Matt got hurt.”

The newspaper quoted White as saying Avril “was kicking (Ryan’s) feet saying, ‘Get him off the field.'”

Falcons center Todd McClure said Suh was saying, “‘Get the cart’ and several other things that I can’t repeat.”

Avril disputed those comments via Twitter on Sunday night, while Suh, who normally doesn’t address the media until Wednesday each week, angrily addressed them Monday.

“They’re gonna say what they want to say,” Suh said, adding “it’s he-said, she-said” as he quickly dismissed the suggestion — one that apparently was lost in translation by the initial report — that Avril actually kicked Ryan while he was down.

The video clearly shows he didn’t. (Avril and Suh are barely in the picture before and after Ryan goes down in a heap.)

And besides, as Suh points out, “I know for a fact, if Cliff — or anybody, for that matter — kicked an opposing quarterback, I’m sure there would’ve been a riot.”

“If that would’ve happened to Matt Stafford and he was on the ground and somebody kicked him,” Suh said, “I guarantee you all hell would’ve broke loose.”

Instead, we’re left with this, whatever the heck it is.

He said, he said

The Lions lost. The Falcons won. Atlanta players accused Detroit of ugly behavior, prompting the Lions to fire back with similar accusations. And we in the media become a ping-pong ball of sorts.

He said, she said? It’s more like, “Did you hear what they said about what you said?” (While conveniently ignoring the fact the hidden soundtrack of an NFL game would make Howard Stern cringe.)

“There was no comments — at all,” Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “I was there when he went down. … We waved for the trainers to come get Matt. We never once made a threat like that to him at all.

“It’s absurd that they would even mention that.”

White, though, wasn’t backing down Monday as he clarified his remarks in an interview with the NFL Network.

“We didn’t say (Avril) kicked Matt,” White said. “We said one of the guys — I don’t know if it was 92 (Avril) or 93 (Kyle Vanden Bosch), one of the defensive ends — came over and he was making kicking gestures, like, ‘Get him out of here.’ And I know Suh said what he said. He was like, ‘Go get the cart for him. Get him out of here.’ He knows he said that.”

Suh was asked about what he said or didn’t say Monday, and he responded, “I’m not even near their quarterback, so how am I going to trash-talk somebody that has a medical staff that’s all around him?”

But he didn’t stop there, as Suh pointed out it wasn’t the Lions who made contact with Ryan on the play. It was his own lineman, Will Svitek, who stepped on Ryan’s ankle while trying to block the Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson.

“If you look at it, to me, it’s karma,” Suh said, noting the Falcons own well-cultivated reputation for dirty play on the offensive line. “For all the bad stuff they’ve done in the past, their offensive lineman hurt their own quarterback. So I’ll leave it at that.”

White responded, “We’re not gonna go back and forth about ‘he-said, she-said,'” before doing just that, adding, “And then he’s gonna say it’s karma for what we’ve done in the past? And then their quarterback (Matthew Stafford) gets hurt on the last play of the game.”

Reputation is sticking

Back to you, Mr. Suh, who was asked if he was hurt personally by the accusations.

“Do I need Rodney White’s respect?” Suh said, before answering himself. “No. I’ll leave it at that.”

At that point, he walked away, flanked by a Lions spokesman.

Now, I have no idea whether Suh purposely mispronounced White’s name or not as a parting gesture — I don’t think he did — or whether Suh knows where the Pistons former first-round pick is now. (Last I heard, he was hooping it up in South Korea.)

But as Suh himself rather bluntly reminded us Monday, we really don’t know him at all.

“Nobody’s gonna be able to really understand who I am, except for very few,” Suh said.

He went on to explain that’s because some people “won’t take the time” to, as he put it, “see the type of person I am.” Then, in the next breath, he admitted that’s because “they can’t get close enough to me. I won’t let people get close to me.”

So Suh me, but I don’t know how we’re going to solve that riddle if that’s the way he’s going to play this game.

Still, what I do know about Suh is that he’s smart, he’s focused, he’s determined and he’s potentially as dominant a player as we’ve ever seen at his position. And while it’d be foolish to think this talk will change his game — “Have you seen me stop playing? Not at all. It’s not gonna affect me,” he said — it’d be a shame if that talent got overshadowed by talk of dirty play, much as it has been with Pittsburgh’s James Harrison.

Talk is cheap. But reputations are invaluable.

john.niyo@detnews.com

twitter.com/JohnNiyo

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