The NFL handed down a two-game suspension to Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes) on Tuesday, the result of his stomping the arm of Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith(notes) during a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Packers.
For the Lions, this was the magic number – a dodge-a-bigger-bullet blessing.
With that punishment, Suh should waive any appeal, happily take a seat, rest up and be thankful that his outburst will have essentially no impact on the franchise's quest to make its first playoff appearance since the 1999 season.
The Lions play at New Orleans on Sunday night, a game they would be expected to lose with or without Suh. The following week they host the lowly Minnesota Vikings, a game they would be expected to win with or without Suh.
This stretch was always about achieving a split. Anything more is a major bonus. Anything less is a disaster, but one that should be avoided no matter the play of their star defensive lineman. As long as Detroit can handle Minnesota, nothing has been lost.
Forget all the handwringing about the Lions' fading hopes. The 5-0 start generated a ton of positive publicity but it was never going to last. Injuries and inexperience have taken their toll. All it did was provide breathing room.
Half the fun of the NFL is the weekly overreactions – weren't the Pittsburgh Steelers done, Tom Brady(notes) fading and the Buffalo Bills a powerhouse? With the Lions, however, it's worth calmly noting that the second half of the season is playing out precisely how most envisioned it.
Following an Oct. 23 loss to Atlanta that dropped them to 5-2, the Lions had a schedule clearly laid out for them to finish 10-6 or 9-7; the X-factor is a Dec. 18 game at Oakland.
Since the loss to the Falcons, the Lions have beaten the teams they are supposed to beat – Denver and Carolina. They've lost the games they were supposed to lose – at Chicago, Green Bay. If they split without Suh in the next two games, then they enter the Oakland swing game 8-5. They then return home for a winnable contest against San Diego and then with a visit to Green Bay, where their chances likely hinge on whether the Packers have lost a game. If Green Bay isn't chasing perfection or battling the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC's No. 1 seed, then it might rest Aaron Rodgers(notes) and company for the second half.
Detroit is most likely finishing 9-7 or 10-6. While the race will be tight, the latter should be good enough for a wild-card spot, especially if Chicago fades without Jay Cutler(notes). The former is problematic.
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The Lions will certainly attempt to beat the Saints on Sunday, but if they don't it's not a crushing defeat. And if they can't handle Minnesota at home, then they have no excuses.
Most important, Suh – rested, ready and presumably highly motivated – will return in time for the Lions' most important game in years, at Oakland.
A two-game suspension might actually be better than one. Shorter may have been preferable, but with the weak Vikings on the docket, a longer and more pronounced punishment might prove more effective in producing long-term change in Suh's on-field behavior.
And are there worse things than more rest? Suh will face the Raiders coming off a 23-day vacation. He'll be fresh for the stretch run.
Something had to be done with Suh. His aggressive play was enough of a concern that earlier this month team president Tom Lewand and coach Jim Schwartz traveled with Suh to New York to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Neither that trip, nor $42,500 in cumulative fines, nor the embarrassment (if there is any) of being voted by other players in The Sporting News as the league's dirtiest player has worked to calm down Suh.
Perhaps this does it, a benching just long enough to get his attention.
Whether Suh has progressed or regressed during his second season is a matter of debate. Stats can be offered to prove both cases. There is no question he's been relentlessly double-teamed and has served as the focus of opposing game plans.
His impact on getting advantageous matchups for his teammates, however, is without dispute.
And really, unless you're spending the time grading out each individual performance based on understanding of the team's play-by-play strategy, any opinion is suspect. Detroit is clearly better off with Suh in the middle. There remains room for improvement and part of that is the maturity to avoid foolish penalties and, of course, ejections and suspensions.
So here is the two-week window for the big guy to learn that lesson. A game the Lions can afford to lose and a game they should win. It's three weeks out that will determine everything. That was the number that had the Lions nervous.
Suh needs to be contrite in accepting his punishment, return for the Oakland trip and make it up to his teammates with a monster game in the biggest one of the season.
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