MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota Vikings rookie safety Harrison Smith was apologetic following his ejection from Sunday's game after trying to push back judge Steve Freeman out of his way following an altercation with Tennessee Titans receiver Nate Washington.
Early in the second quarter following an interception by Antoine Winfield, Smith and a few players exchanged words with Washington. When Freeman intervened and pushed Smith out of the way, the Vikings' safety batted away Freeman's arms. Smith went to the bench following the interception, and didn't immediately hear he was ejected from the game.
"It was just stupid for me to even be involved," Smith said after the game. "I just got, kind of, caught up in the heat of the moment. At the end of the day, you can never touch the officials. They have a hard enough job as it is, and to make it harder on them is just stupid. It's something I don't ever want to do from this point on."
Smith said he hadn't seen the replay and wasn't exactly sure "what it looks like" but knew he had erred once he put his hands on Freeman.
"Right after it happened, I realized I put my hands on the official," Smith said. "You just can't do it, period. So, I apologize to him. I apologize to my coaches, to my teammates, to the fans. It's just unacceptable."
Referee Jeff Triplette spoke with a pool reporter after the game and said the Smith's pushing of Freeman instigated an automatic ejection for pushing an official.
"He was just trying to separate (Smith) from the huddle," Triplette said. "He just can't be shoving him aside."
Smith's play on the back end of Minnesota's defense has been a big part in the Vikings' surprising start, adding a physical edge to a secondary that has lacked the mindset for several years. Smith has come through with several big hits on receivers, including in the first quarter Sunday when he leveled Tennessee receiver Kendall Wright.
Smith had dislodged an apparent touchdown by Detroit Lions All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson last week, helping the Vikings to a win. He also received a 21,000 fine for an illegal hit on San Diego Chargers receiver Mike Willie in the third preseason game.
He said Sunday's run-in with the official doesn't fall into the same area as his big hits and doesn't think there is any balance needed between his aggressive play and knowing when to withdraw.
"It wasn't even during the play, so that's just something that shouldn't need to be addressed," Smith said. "It's just stupid that I was even there."
Smith is likely facing another fine for the penalty. Coincidentally, commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance for the game.
"To be honest, I'm going to take whatever they give me," Smith said. "Like I said, the officials already have a hard job and I should never have been there. I just want to play next week and just help the Vikings win."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier admonished the reaction, but hoped Smith could learn.
"You can't touch the officials," Frazier said. "Just not smart on our part in doing that, and we've got to learn from it."
"He said, obviously, stupid play," Smith said. "He just said, Learn from it and just continue to grow from it and don't let it happen again.'"
With Smith out, Minnesota was down to two safeties. Starter Mistral Raymond is out for a few weeks with an ankle injury, and backup Andrew Sendejo was deactivated with continued ankle problems.
Rookie Robert Blanton played in place of Smith, alongside Jamarca Sanford, and had five tackles in his most extensive action of the season.
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