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Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, left, gets ready to hit Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, second from left, with a helmet during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, in Cleveland. The Browns won 21-7. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, left, gets ready to hit Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, second from left, with a helmet during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, in Cleveland. The Browns won 21-7. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane) (Ron Schwane / AP)

It was a night when the only saving grace for the National Football League was the likelihood that millions of fans had already tuned out of the sloppy and already disturbing game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If anyone cares, the Browns scored an ugly 21-7 victory that was supposed to help them salvage the second half of a once-promising season, but that became largely irrelevant when the final seconds of the game devolved into a brawl that featured an egregious incident that left the league embroiled in another public relations disaster.

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Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripped the helmet off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and slammed it down on his head, creating a postgame firestorm during which Garrett was excoriated by some his own teammates and left to wonder when he will be allowed to play again.

League officials decided Friday to suspend him for at least the rest of the season for the fight that also featured Steelers linemen Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro slamming Garrett to the ground with Pouncey punching and kicking the Browns star before order was finally restored.

If that wasn’t already bad enough, fellow Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi showed up late to the fray and blindsided the already stunned Rudolph, knocking him to the ground. (Pouncey received a three-game suspension with Ogunjobi receiving one game.)

Not surprisingly the incident blew up on social media, where some outraged fans wondered if Garrett should be arrested for the flagrant assault. SportCenter commentator Scott Van Pelt appeared to agree, saying soon afterward that the helmet bash “seems almost criminal to me.”

Former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, appearing on the same program, speculated that if Garrett had managed to hit Rudolph with the crown of that helmet instead of the side of it, we might be talking about a real tragedy.

The sadder fact of the matter is that the game already had featured a series of ugly helmet-to-helmet hits that left Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster with a concussion and sent fellow Pittsburgh receiver Diontae Johnson literally staggering back to the Steelers locker room to undergo concussion testing.

Browns safety Demarious Randall was ejected from the game for the Johnson hit and also could face a stiff fine and possibly a suspension.

The NFL obviously didn’t need to air this much dirty laundry in prime time, especially at a time when fans appear to have gotten over the long-running anthem controversy and a group of exciting young quarterbacks — most notably Ravens star Lamar Jackson — have captured their imagination.

What this means from a purely football perspective might be less important, but the key injuries suffered on both sides during Thursday night’s game and the fallout from the brawl may have ended any real hope of either the Steelers or the Browns staging a second-half challenge to the Ravens’ march toward the AFC North title.

The Browns already were a decided long shot after their much-hyped competitive renaissance unraveled early, but the one-sided victory over the Steelers was their second win in a row and their first against Pittsburgh since 2014. Things definitely were starting to look up until that helmet came crashing down.

Now, they face a very uncertain future with two of the best players on their solid defense facing suspensions and starting strong safety Morgan Burnett apparently lost for the season with an Achilles tear.

The Steelers lost their top two receivers for an unspecified period after reeling off four straight wins to move back into the wild card conversation. But they never looked like much of a playoff team on a Thursday night when their offensive line could not keep the Browns away from Rudolph, who was hit repeatedly and threw four interceptions.

That may smooth the Ravens’ path to the division title, but it was — quite simply — a horrible night for the sport.

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