Vrabel says he's sorry Browns think he's dirty player

Updated: October 10, 2007, 4:57 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

FOXBOROUGH, Mass -- New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel calmly said Wednesday that, despite comments to the contrary from Cleveland's Eric Steinbach, he is not a "classless" football player.

"I'm going to say this one time," Vrabel told reporters at the Patriots' training facility. "I'm sorry that they feel that way. I don't play that way, and I'm sorry they feel that way. We're going to move on."

Steinbach felt Vrabel purposely dived at the knees of rookie tackle Joe Thomas with 11 seconds remaining in Sunday's game between the Patriots and Browns. The play had been stopped when Browns quarterback Derek Anderson spiked the ball.

"It was uncalled for," Steinbach said.

The Patriots were leading by 17 when Anderson took the snap and fired the ball into the ground. Most players stopped immediately, but as Thomas backpedalled, Vrabel, who may not have heard the whistle, kept rushing the quarterback and fell at the first-round draft pick's legs, knocking him back and tripping up Anderson.

Steinbach thought Vrabel's move was deliberate.

"To dive for a guy's knees like that?" he said. "And almost take out the quarterback? When the game is already over with?"

Steinbach swiftly responded to Vrabel's charge by shoving him hard with both hands to the ground. Center Hank Fraley pounced on Vrabel and a few of the other Browns linemen went after the former Ohio State star as players on both sides joined the skirmish.

Following the game, several Browns had words with Vrabel.

Patriots safety Rodney Harrison made light of the situation on Wednesday.

"I've known Mike for five years now. Tremendous football player. Better person. Family man. Nothing dirty on Mike except his underwear," he said, according to the Boston Globe.

Steinbach felt otherwise on Monday. He said Vrabel's actions were inappropriate whether the Patriots were ahead by double-digits or trying to stop the Browns from kicking a tying field goal.

"It was too blatant for everyone to see," he 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."

He's also hoping the league steps in and punishes Vrabel, a 10-year veteran.

"I hope so," he said. "You've got to get fined for that -- if he's going to keep going on like that. Maybe he doesn't care about a $5,000 fine. But I wouldn't want that reputation."

Vrabel has a bit of a history with the Browns. With the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1999, Vrabel was penalized for a roughing Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch, a 15-yard infraction that set up a game-winning field goal for the Browns and for which he was fined $5,000.

Whether Vrabel's move on Thomas was intentional or not, to Steinbach, it's yet another spot on the Patriots' once-impeccable image, which seems to be getting more tarnished as the months pass.

Following last year's AFC title game, San Diego superstar LaDainian Tomlinson was upset with the Patriots for dancing on the Chargers logo at midfield. Last month, New England coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 for violating a league rule that prohibits clubs from using a video camera on the sidelines.

Also, Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork was fined $12,500 by the league last month for his low, late hit on Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, who sustained a sprained left knee.

Steinbach was asked if Vrabel's hit changed the way he viewed 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. Well, how are you going to have a player like that go and do that at the end of the game?

"That just doesn't show professionalism. I don't care if the game was won or lost you don't do a move like that. I wasn't too happy."

Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs was hoping Vrabel's behavior was an accident.

"I really hope that he didn't hear the whistle," he said. "I have no doubt in my mind that he's not that type of player or athlete like that. Seeing him throughout the years, he's shown a lot of sportsmanship and not really a guy who would do something like that, especially when they're up.

"He didn't hear the whistle, I have to stick with that. I hope he didn't."

During his four seasons with Cincinnati, Steinbach, who signed with the Browns as a free agent in March, couldn't recall another such incident in games against the Patriots.

"We played them in Cincinnati three years in a row and didn't see any dirty play, so that was a first," he said. "It was just one guy."

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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