Allen Park — The Lions will have to try to earn their first playoff win since 1991 without their best defensive player.
The NFL suspended All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for one game without pay for stepping on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' injured left calf in Sunday's loss to Green Bay.
NFL Vice President of Football Operations Merton Hanks imposed the suspension and sent a letter to Suh outlining the reasoning behind the ruling.
"You did not respond in the manner of someone who had lost his balance and accidentally contacted another player who was lying on the ground," Hanks wrote. "This illegal contact, specifically the second step and push off with your left foot, clearly could have been avoided.
"You unnecessarily stepped on your opponent's unprotected leg as he lay on the ground unable to protect himself."
Suh, who has had at least seven previous safety violations, is due to become a free agent after the season, so there's a chance Sunday's game was his last with the team that drafted him second overall in 2010. The sixth-seeded Lions play in the wild-card round at the third-seeded Dallas Cowboys Sunday at 4:40 p.m., and the team will prepare as if Suh will not be playing.
Suh will appeal the suspension, according to ESPN, to former player Ted Cottrell. Cottrell is jointly appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association to rule on appeals of on-field incidents, and Suh can have his appeal process expedited with a decision as early as Tuesday.
Although history suggests Suh's suspension will likely be upheld, Cottrell did overturn a one-game suspension for former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed in 2012, reducing his punishment to a $50,000 fine for a third helmet-to-helmet hit in three years.
Suh led the Lions with 8.5 sacks and was second with 13 tackles for loss in the regular season, and he will likely be named a first-team All-Pro for the third time in his five NFL seasons after being the top player on the league's No. 2 overall defense. He's banned from visiting Lions headquarters during his suspension and did not address the team before leaving the building when coach Jim Caldwell relayed the ruling Monday afternoon.
"He's a dominant force in our defense," Lions strong safety James Ihedigbo said of Suh. "He's kind of the key centerpiece, but we have faith that guys are going to step up and fill that void and do the best job they can to get this win."
Lions players expressed disappointment in the NFL for leveling the suspension instead of a fine, especially considering the magnitude of the game, and said Suh's step was not malicious. Caldwell also warned players last week to be on alert after center Dominic Raiola received a one-game suspension for stomping on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson's ankle, holding him out of the Packers game with the NFC North on the line.
Without Suh, the Lions will rely on C.J. Mosley and likely Andre Fluellen as their defensive tackles against a Cowboys team with one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. Defensive ends Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp could play inside, too, and rookie tackle Caraun Reid will likely have a role. Caldwell said it would take a "miracle" for Nick Fairley, who's missed eight straight games, to return Sunday.
"Y'all understand how we can't really replace that, but we got people that are hungry and ready," Jones said.
After Rodgers completed a 15-yard pass to Jordy Nelson with 5:48 left in the fourth quarter Sunday, Suh bumped Rodgers to the ground with his backside then proceeded to step on him twice, first with his right foot then with his left foot. On the second step, Suh's left foot was squarely on Rodgers' injured left calf, and he lifted his right foot, putting all his weight on Rodgers, who tried to push Suh away.
Compared to Raiola's stomp in Week 16, Suh's incident appeared less vicious, but his past history didn't help his case to avoid a suspension.
Prior to the announcement of from the NFL, Caldwell said the Lions were preparing for the worst. Unlike with Raiola last week, Caldwell did not provide a defense of Suh Monday, though he did say Sunday he thought it was unintentional before seeing the video.
"Personal views don't matter in this particular case," Caldwell said when asked for his opinion of the incident Monday.
Caldwell said he met with Suh Monday morning, but declined to share details of their conversation.
The NFL said last week that Raiola's past influenced the decision, citing it as his sixth safety-related rules violation since 2010. Suh has had at least seven safety-related violations in that time, including a two-game suspension for stomping on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2011. The Lions went 1-1 without Suh that year.
Including that suspension and a taunting fine last year, Suh paid $377,169 to the NFL for his on-field infractions during his five seasons with the Lions before the current suspension. He'll lose $22,000 for missing the postseason game.
The Packers took issue with Suh's incident Sunday, and Rodgers said he expected Suh to claim it was accidental. Suh was not available for comment after the game or Monday.
"I didn't see it live, I didn't see it on the Jumbotron, but from what I'm told, I'm told it was ridiculous," coach Mike McCarthy said. "There's no place for that. That's where I'm at with it. I don't understand it, frankly."