CLEVELAND — Myles Garrett’s goal was to be NFL’s top defensive player this season. He won’t finish it.

Garrett’s indefinite suspension for smashing Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph over the head with a helmet was upheld Thursday by an appeals officer who decided the severe penalty on the Cleveland Browns star defensive end is fair.

One of the league’s most dominant edge rushers, Garrett is banned for the final six regular-season games and playoffs – if Cleveland qualifies – for pulling off Rudolph’s helmet and cracking him with it in the closing seconds of the Browns’ 21-7 win over their AFC North rival last week.

On Wednesday, Garrett attended his appeals hearing in New York and made his case to former player James Thrash for a reduction of his penalty, which will damage Cleveland’s season and stain the 24-year-old’s budding career.

Thrash didn’t find enough compelling evidence to lessen Garrett’s punishment, which will keep him off the field until 2020 — at the earliest.

As part of his historic suspension for using his helmet “as a weapon,” Garrett must also meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office before he can be reinstated. He’s been fined $45,623.

Appeals officer Derrick Brooks, a Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker, did reduce the suspension for Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey from three games to two for punching and kicking Garrett following the shocking assault on Rudolph, who earlier this week said he “should have done a better job keeping my composure in that situation.”

Brooks also upheld a $35,096 fine for Pouncey, who will miss the Steelers’ rematch with the Browns on Dec. 1 at Heinz Field, where the atmosphere is intense for every game between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Garrett’s violent act – he pulled Rudolph’s helmet off and clobbered him with it – on national TV and its aftermath have been a dominant topic since it happened. The story took a new twist when ESPN, using anonymous sources, first reported that Garrett told the league during his meeting with Thrash that Rudolph used a racial slur just before the brawl erupted.

Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said Rudolph “vehemently denies” the report. Rudolph had been scheduled to speak to reporters after practice but declined shortly after the report surfaced.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league investigated Garrett’s claim and “found no such evidence.”

FALCONS: Quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones returned to practice and appear set to start against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Ryan, nursing a sore ankle, and Jones, bothered by a sore foot, went through Thursday’s full session with no problems. Neither practiced the day before.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant (toe) was a full participant, too.

VIKINGS: Former Minnesota kicker Fred Cox, one of the last of the straight-on placekickers and a standout on several conference championship teams, has died. He was 80. Cox’s wife, Bonnie, announced the death through the Vikings without providing details.

Cox, who also co-created the Nerf football, scored a Minnesota-record 1,365 points in his 15 seasons, often kicking in nasty conditions because the Vikings played outdoors during his career from 1963-77. When he retired, he was second in NFL history in scoring behind George Blanda – who also played quarterback – and had made 282 field goals.

Cox was one of 11 Vikings to play in all four of the team’s Super Bowls, all defeats. He kicked in 18 postseason games.

BEARS: Quarterback Mitch Trubisky practiced in full for the second straight day Thursday as he recovers from a right hip pointer.

Bears Coach Matt Nagy said Trubisky said he felt pretty good, and Nagy thought that was “a step in the right direction” as the Bears gear up for Sunday’s game against the Giants at Soldier Field.

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