ATLANTA — At another time, in another place, the words uttered by Ndamukong Suh would be accompanied by ominous music, a fade to black, and prompt Tom Brady to consider his options and decide, well, this Super Bowl thing is not all it’s cracked up to be and perhaps he should sit this one out on Sunday.
Suh saying nice things is a bit unsettling, as what the big man says and what in the past he has done are very much not in unison.
“He’s amongst the top,’’ Suh said, when asked to consider how sacking Brady rates. “I enjoy going against him. There’s a handful of other great quarterbacks, but obviously he’s one of the best in the league and going to be a future Hall of Famer. It’s always a pleasure to hit him and take him down.’’
Suh using “pleasure’’ this way causes an opponent to smile nervously as fearful perspiration runs down the side of his face. Suh is on the precipice of going legit, as far as sanitizing his image. If he can help the Rams slow Brady and get past the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, the history of his many indiscretions is not erased, but must be topped with a new characterization of Suh as a winner and contributor to a team in ways many believed he never could be.
His reputation was that of a dirty player who took needlessly cheap shots after the whistle. The Rams are the third stop in his NFL journey and, by far, his most fulfilling, as far as fitting in, winning games and gaining admiration for his ability as a tough defensive tackle rather than fostering his image as a player on the edge.
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“What you hear in the media, I don’t really buy into all of that,’’ Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. “You hear all the stuff, oh man, he’s such a dirty player, and then you meet him and it’s like he’s nothing like that.’’
Suh has not added to his rap sheet in quite some time. He spent his first five seasons with the Lions and terrorized the league.
As a rookie he grabbed the facemask of Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and then flung him to the ground. He kicked Texans quarterback Matt Schaub where no man should be kicked. He was suspended two games for stepping on the arm of Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. He was fined $70,000 for crunching the leg of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He was fined a record $100,000 for leveling Vikings center John Sullivan below the knees.
Sullivan is now his teammate with the Rams. After signing a massive $114 million deal with the Dolphins, Suh grabbed the throat of Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Suh has no interest in recounting all these transgressions or rehabilitating his image to the masses.
“I think people have the right to their opinion, it doesn’t mean it’s always right,’’ Suh said. “I would just ask people to truthfully look underneath the hood versus just looking at the shiny car and saying, ‘That looks like an amazing car.’ It could be a terrible vehicle, one that can’t even start. What it looks like isn’t always exactly what it is.’’
The Dolphins tired of him and the hit he made on their salary cap and last offseason released him. The Rams signed him to a one-year, $14 million contract, essentially a make-good deal that to this point he is making good on.
“You never think you’re going to get cut from a team, which actually happened to me this past spring, which was truly a blessing in disguise,’’ Suh said. “Look where I’m at now.’’
The Rams need the 32-year-old Suh to be solid and not a star, as that status is reserved for Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the league. Suh is assigned to stop the run, work in concert in the interior of the defensive line with Donald and provide pass-rush support.
“He’s awesome, he’s a great player, man,’’ Brockers said. “I like Suh. He’s a businessman and I like his mentality. A lot of people think he shrugs you off but it’s all his business mindset. He’s on a track, he’s on a mission all the time.’’
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Suh had 4.5 sacks this season and is playing his best when the Rams need it. He helped contain the Cowboys’ potent running game in the playoff opener and had 1.5 sacks of Drew Brees in the NFC Championship game.
“Ndamukong not only had two good back-to-back games, but two great back-to-back games,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said.
Suh has not found much success dropping Brady, managing only 1.5 sacks in seven games against the Patriots. He can overshadow all that with a victory on Sunday.
“I came here because I felt comfortable here,’’ Suh said. “I wanted to be part of a winning organization and be able to be a cog in the wheel to hopefully bring a championship to LA. Hopefully my decision will be solidified if we do that.’’