BEREA — Browns guard Eric Steinbach came back from New England impressed by the Patriots’ talent but infuriated with one of their captains.
“Classless. And you can quote me,” Steinbach said Monday.
He was referring to linebacker Mike Vrabel and his actions with 11 seconds left in the 34-17 loss. Derek Anderson had just completed a pass to Tim Carter, who was tackled at the New England 10-yard line. Anderson motioned that he was going to spike the ball to stop the clock, then did just that.
But Vrabel bull-rushed rookie left tackle Joe Thomas, who had relaxed because the play was over. Vrabel continued into Thomas and slid down toward his lower body as Thomas backed up. Vrabel fell to the ground and made contact with Anderson’s heel, causing him to trip and fall.
“To dive for a guy’s knees like that?” Steinbach said before the team met to watch film. “And almost take out the quarterback? When the game is already over with?”
Steinbach was quick to jump to his teammates’ defense and shove Vrabel, and center Hank Fraley jumped on top of Vrabel. Thomas later threw himself on the pile as a scrum erupted. No flags were thrown, but the jawing between the Browns line and Vrabel continued in the postgame.
“It was too blatant for everyone to see,” Steinbach said. “I don’t know if the refs were kind of lackadaisical because it was the end of the game, but regardless of where it’s at in the game, if you’re going to allow stuff like that to go on … I thought we’re trying to clean the game up. I wasn’t too fond of that.”
A Patriots spokesman was contacted Monday, but Vrabel, a team captain, didn’t comment. Thomas wasn’t in the locker room during the period open to reporters.
Vrabel attended Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls and Ohio State. He’s in his 11th year and also helped the expansion Browns shock the Steelers in 1999 when he was penalized 15 yards for hitting quarterback Tim Couch with a forearm to the helmet on the game-winning drive. He drew a $5,000 fine.
“If that’s the rep that that guy wants, so be it,” Steinbach said. “It’s kind of unacceptable.”
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years starting with the 2001 season and are viewed as the model NFL franchise. But not everyone loves them.
Chargers All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson criticized coach Bill Belichick for having a team that celebrated its playoff win last year by mocking San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman’s sack dance at midfield. And earlier this season, nose tackle Vince Wilfork was fined $12,500 for a low, late hit on Bills quarterback J.P. Losman that knocked him out of the game. Wilfork has appealed the fine, and Losman missed his second straight start Monday night.
Steinbach said Vrabel deserved a fine for his actions Sunday.
“You’ve got to get fined for that,” he said. “Maybe he doesn’t care about a $5,000 fine. But I wouldn’t want that reputation.”
Steinbach was asked if the incident affected the way he views the Patriots.
“That’s what kind of got me,” he said. “Everyone is trying to emulate the New England Patriots and everyone looks up to them in the NFL like they’re the team that does everything right. That just doesn’t show professionalism. I wasn’t too happy.”
Steinbach played the Patriots in 2004 and ’06 as a member of the Bengals.
“I didn’t see any dirty play, so that was a first,” he said. “It was uncalled for. It was just one guy.”
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