As it turns out, the Lions' No. 2 defense will have its best player Sunday when it travels to Dallas for a wild-card round matchup against the high-powered Cowboys offense.Ndamukong Suh can play in the Lions' playoff game after having his appeal of a one-game suspension granted by appeals officer Ted Cotrrell Tuesday. Cottrell, who was appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association, rescinded Suh's one-game suspension and reduced his punishment to a $70,000 fine
Suh stepped on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' injured left calf Sunday, and NFL vice president of Football Operations Merton Hanks levied the suspension Monday after deciding Suh "did not respond in the manner of someone who had lost his balance and accidentally contacted another player who was lying on the ground."
Suh appeared at the league office in New York to present his case to Cottrell Tuesday afternoon.
The unpaid suspension would've cost Suh $22,000, the payment from the league for each player on a wild-card team. Instead, he'll have to pay $70,000, the second biggest fine of his career not including a two-game suspension in 2011. Suh received a $100,000 fine for an illegal low block on Vikings center John Sullivan in Week 1 of 2013.
Including the $165,294 in lost wages from his suspension for stomping on Packers Evan Dietrich-Smith, Suh has now lost $452,169 to NFL-enforced punishment for 10 total violations.
A Lions spokesman did not respond to a request for comment from the team following the reversal of the suspension. Suh was not available for interviews after the game Sunday, but typically addresses the media on Wednesdays.
From the time the league levied the suspension until Suh won the appeal, there was a growing sense that Suh had a chance to have the ban lifted as many NFL minds and national pundits said the punishment didn't fit the crime. Mike Pereira, the former vice president of officiating who now works for FOX, said in a video posted to Twitter the league displayed an inconsistent discipline process.
"Listen, Suh stepped on Aaron Rodgers. And I firmly believe that if it wasn't Suh and it was another no-name who didn't have history and it wasn't Aaron Rodgers, it wouldn't have led to any type of a fine at all," he said.
Had Suh's suspension stood, it would've been the first time in the Super Bowl era — at least — that a player was suspended for a playoff game for an on-field incident. Cottrell also overturned a one-game ban for former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed in 2012, instead levying a $50,000 fine.
Unlike with Lions center Dominic Raiola's suspension last week for stomping on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, the NFL did not consider Suh's history when determining his punishment.
The league modified its repeat offender policy this year, according to NFL.com's Judy Battista. After a safety-related violation, a player could earn a clean slate after 32 games without another such offense. Suh's last violation of this nature was in Week 1 of 2013, and by playing 15 games last year, three preseason games and 15 clean ones this year, his history was no longer a factor.
Lions players said Suh didn't deserve a suspension for the incident, and after hearing Suh's appeal, Cottrell agreed.
"I've seen the play and I don't think it was intentional," Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead said Monday. "He's been playing his heart out all year. He hasn't done anything to really hurt the team for some time, so I don't look at it as him being the same old Suh or whatever the case people may be saying."
Suh's return gives the Lions a much better chance of winning their wild-card matchup in Dallas Sunday. He's their best defensive player, a four-time Pro Bowler and will likely be named a first-team All-Pro for the third time this year after being the centerpiece of the NFL's No. 2 overall defense. In the regular season, Suh led the Lions with 8 ½ sacks and was second with 13 tackles for loss.
"Y'all see his numbers and understand what he's doing, so y'all understand how we can't really replace that," defensive end Jason Jones said Monday.
Suh is also at the center of a Lions defensive line that helped the team finish No. 1 against the run, allowing just 69.3 yards per game. On Sunday, the Lions face the NFL's No. 2 rushing offense in Dallas led by 2014 rushing champion DeMarco Murray, who finished with 1,845 yards, 13 touchdowns and averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
The Lions have a chance to earn their first playoff win since 1991 and second since 1957 Sunday.
Rodgers said on his weekly radio show with ESPN Milwaukee Tuesday he was interested to see the ruling on Suh's appeal and provided a similar explanation as Hanks about the incident.
"If you step on something in your everyday life, or if you step on somebody on the field, the first reaction seems to be looking back and maybe apologizing with your hands or pulling your foot back right away," Rodgers said. "And I'm just not sure that's what happened on Sunday."
Bill Polian, a former general manager for the Colts, Panthers and Bills who now works for ESPN, said Monday night on Sirius XM NFL Radio that suspension should've been a last resort.
"I think in this case with the playoffs involved and with competitive balance involved, you better be darn sure — darn sure — beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a suspendable offense before you take a player of this nature off the field in a playoff game," he said.
Suh is due to become a free agent after the season and will likely receive a contract worth around $100 million, whether from the Lions or another suitor. The Lions drafted him second overall in 2010, and Sunday's game will be just his second postseason appearance.