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Suh's nastiness changes Lions' culture, makes him a dirty player

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Suh has won over Lions fans, but can he exercise the same mastery of the league office? (AP)  
Suh has won over Lions fans, but can he exercise the same mastery of the league office? (AP)  

It's official: Ndamukong Suh is a dirty player.

He no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. There's too much evidence to the contrary. That great smile, nice off-field demeanor and cool ass car commercial can no longer shield him from what has become a definite. He plays dirty.

And I like Suh. A lot. He brings a nastiness to the Detroit Lions, a desire to intimidate that is changing the culture of one of the biggest losers in all of sports. This is good. No, this is great. The Lions are going to be good again and it's Suh's talent and aggression serving as the fusion for change.

"We wanted to earn respect last year," Suh told CBS following the Lions' game against New England on Saturday night. "I felt we did that. We want to continue to earn that respect. And now it's with fear, it's all about fear. It's about having quarterbacks fear us, offensive linemen fear us, every single game we step into. And that's by our play. So we want to continue to get after quarterbacks and offensive lines and wreak havoc."

That's good. Love that attitude. If you went into a laboratory and combined Michael Strahan with Warren Sapp, you'd get Suh. It doesn't get much better than that.

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While his talent is undeniable and his fury a good thing, he hasn't learned to properly harness that aggression. It spills out at times uncontrollably and it's only a matter of time before Suh is suspended and his reputation morphs into something not so positive.

In fact, I think that is already happening. I can tell you the league is watching Suh's behavior extremely closely. If it continues he's going to be hit with a much more massive fine. That's a guarantee.

The latest incident with Suh came against the Patriots. It was a brutal game featuring a few skirmishes. Patriots guard Logan Mankins was involved in a beef with a Lions player when Suh approached Mankins and threw a punch. It connected.

He should have been tossed but the game official missed it. Replays clearly showed the punch. How an official could miss a man the size of mobile home throwing a punch is a mystery.

On Twitter, Lions fans showed their smallness by saying Suh was justified throwing the punch because he was defending a teammate. That's part of The Danny Ainge Syndrome. If you were a Celtics fan when Ainge was in Boston, you loved him. If he was an opponent, you thought he was cheap. So I understand that phenomenon and it's happening with Suh.

There's still no excusing what he did. It was totally a punk move and there's little doubt the NFL is going to fine Suh.

Then again, getting fined is something Suh should be accustomed to. He was fined $20,000 by the NFL for his recent body slam of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton.

Suh was fined $7,500 for a dirty hit on Jake Delhomme last year and $15,000 for a hit on Jay Cutler. That hit, to me, was legal. But it was like a lot of things with Suh -- it was unnecessary and indicative of how Suh doesn't seem to understand the nuance of football.

So that's three fines and at least four personal fouls in less than two years and that doesn't include the fine likely coming his way for Saturday's punch. That's quite a track record in such a short period of time.

This is a different era in the sport. The league office wants to clean up the over-the-top hits. We can debate the hypocrisy or silliness of this stance but it's a fact in the sport now. This isn't the 1950s. Punching guys or body slamming them won't be tolerated in Goodell's NFL.

Again, go ahead and call the NFL soft. It doesn't matter what you or I think. This is the nature of the sport in the 21st century.

Players must live within this construct. Suh doesn't think he has to. He's turning this into a battle of wills, and if Suh thinks he can beat the league, he's a fool. Suh vs. quarterbacks? Suh wins. Suh vs. the league office? Suh's the one who gets body slammed.

Suh has crossed the threshold from aggressive to dirty, but it's not too late for him to come back.

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