Cortland Finnegan just made it very hot for the NFL.
The NFL is going to have a tough call on its hands today when league vice president of football operations Ray Anderson sits down to examine the brawl between Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who started it, and Houston wideout Andre Johnson, who finished it.
(Editor's note: The NFL ruled on the Johnson-Finnegan fight on Monday afternoon.)
It's rare that you see a fight in football when both players' helmets have been yanked off, allowing players to land punches on unprotected heads. But that's what happened in this one. With Houston protecting a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub took the snap and Finnegan immediately bolted across the line and shoved Johnson's facemask into his face. That lit the fuse. After each had his helmet yanked off by the other, Johnson landed two roundhouse right-handed punches to Finnegan's head; then the officials separated them. "I just lost my cool,'' Johnson said. "I wish I could take back what happened, but I can't.''
"You know Andre,'' one of his teammates told me Sunday night. "Nicest guy in the world. This is the one guy in the league who gets under his skin. And Finnegan was 100 percent the instigator in this fight.''
The combatants' history will play a part in the discipline, and Finnegan's fine history is more extensive than Johnson's. But as of Sunday night, the case hadn't been opened yet, because Anderson, who handles discipline, was at the Giants-Jags game and wasn't going to start his investigation until this morning.
"I hope the league takes the same action as they did with Richard Seymour,'' Johnson's teammate said.
The NFL chose to fine but not suspend Oakland defensive lineman Seymour for slugging Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and knocking him to the ground Nov. 21. But if the league doesn't suspend anyone for a brawl like this one, when would a suspension be apropos?
Speaking of Seymour, you didn't hear him howling about the fine. Why would he? It was a classic wrist-slap.
Seymour's 2010 salary: $12,398,000. The fine: $25,000. Percentage of salary Seymour was fined: 0.2 percent
A month ago, Anderson told me he was convinced that to get players' attention with fines the league needed to ratchet up their levels. Seymour, twice fined for over-the-top hits in the past two years, drops a marquee quarterback and gets fined the flyspeck amount of one-fifth of 1 percent of his salary. If I'm Seymour, I'm laughing all the way to the bank.
I was surprised Seymour didn't get a game off. Sunday's fight between Finnegan and Johnson was worse. If the league's serious about stopping fighting, both should get hit with a one-game ban.
Ron Rivera has a secret.
Anytime a man beats Peyton Manning, and beats him handily, we in the media question him like he's got the truth about the Kennedy assassination or somesuch.
One of the things I found about the approach of San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera early this morning is more a human-nature factor than football one. The Chargers had just defeated Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis Sunday night, 36-14. Manning losing by 22 or more? Ridiculous. Yet when I spoke with Rivera, he was very Manningish about it. Instead of crowing about what the Chargers had done well, he said the Chargers blew opportunities on both of the Colts' first-half scoring drives to make plays that would have stopped Indianapolis from scoring.
"Hey,'' I said, "you held Manning to 14 points in 12 possessions. Let's not be beating yourself up over that.''
Rivera joined the Chargers staff in 2007, and since arriving, his defenses are 4-1 against Manning. Noteworthy considering that he coached the 4-3 in Chicago, and the Chargers play a 3-4, and Rivera adjusted to that scheme and has coached it well.
Nothing he said about playing Manning was particularly noteworthy -- disguise fronts, don't show coverage when Manning gets to the line, show different pressures on each pass-rush -- except for one thing. Rivera's defense uses a play clock in practice (no surprise there) but the scout-team offense tries to simulate Manning, running two or three plays in a row from the "sugar'' huddle, where offensive players mill around the line without huddling. So they simulate the tempo of the Colts, too, for three practices before they play. Nothing Manning will do to Rivera is a surprise then.
Oh, and one other thing: Never let Reggie Wayne get behind the defense. Rivera thinks -- surprise! -- this is the key to sure death with Manning at the controls.
On Sunday night, the Chargers intercepted Manning four times, held him to a pedestrian 5.9 yards per attempt, and returned two picks for touchdowns. Manning had a funereal look on his face through much of the fourth quarter. He just never got in a rhythm. On the first interception, linebacker Kevin Burnett baited him, threatening to rush over the right tackle and then pulling back at the last second into coverage. His leaping pick ought to be in linebacker textbooks.
We all know what a great year Philip Rivers is having. But this defense is a legit top-five group, and the Chargers (6-5), December's team (Rivers is 19-0 as a regular-season quarterback after Dec. 1), are going to be a tough out for someone if they can sneak into the playoffs. "We're getting close to where we want to be,'' he said. I'd say they're already there.