Browns' Steinbach miffed by Vrabel's late rush in Patriots' win on Sunday

BEREA, Ohio -- The New England Patriots are unbeaten, not unblemished.

At least one of them is dirty to Browns guard Eric Steinbach.

Irritated over what he thought was a cheap shot in the closing seconds of Sunday's 34-17 loss, Steinbach called Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel "classless" on Monday and hopes the NFL fines one of New England's top players.

Steinbach felt Vrabel purposely dived at the knees of rookie tackle Joe Thomas with 11 seconds remaining on a play that was 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.

Vrabel declined to talk with reporters in the Patriots locker room on Monday and it was unclear if he was aware of Steinbach's comments.

Patriots wide receiver Donte' Stallworth said he doesn't expect defenders to ease up when they know a quarterback plans to spike the ball.

"You've always been taught since you first started football to play 'til the whistle blows, regardless of the situation," he said. "Vrabel's a smart guy. He knows what he's doing. He's been in this league long enough."

Steinbach feels 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. 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."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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