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COMMENTARY NFL WEEK 5

NFL Should Stick to Fines

October 08, 2006|Bob Oates | Special to The Times

The NFL, a league with a history of punishing players who get out of line, has disciplined Tennessee tackle Albert Haynesworth for willfully stomping on the face of an opposing player in last week's Dallas game -- but the punishment was wrongly chosen.

It should have been a steep fine, instead of a suspension without pay for five games.

In a team game, suspensions hurt teams, often critically.

And when it's the player who is at fault, not the team, it's the player who should be punished, not the team.

The fine in this case -- a five-game loss of revenue -- ought to have been considerably larger but unencumbered by loss of playing time.

Paging Upshaw

A more sizable fine might have required a waiver from union leader Gene Upshaw, who heads the NFL Players Assn.

Upshaw, a former lineman and Hall of Famer, understands that suspensions harm teams -- but the members of his union don't like fines.

His role now is to convince membership that in cases such as this, heavy fines are a necessity.

On Discipline

Fining is always the best way of enforcing discipline in team sports, which is why team owners and their players should commit to few, if any, suspensions. Fining should be the main weapon as well in two other kinds of cases:

* Teams that punish their own players, for almost any reason, should fine them instead of ordering them out of next Sunday's game, a tactic that only helps the other side win.

* College teams also should end the practice of suspending players in disciplinary cases. For UCLA to suspend a UCLA starter for a game or two -- for any reason -- is counterproductive to a UCLA goal, game success.

College people should be able to think up a better disciplinary tactic than that.

Lovie on Top

The Chicago Bears, as led by Lovie Smith and his offensive coordinator, Ron Turner, are among the few pro clubs playing the game just right. The Bears like to pass aggressively, down the field, on first down.

Typically, first down is a running down.

Hence the Bears make more first-down yards than other teams, creating more second-down run-or-pass uncertainties in the minds of their opponents, and leading to more scores, and therefore more wins.

In a predictable result of their aggressive passing, the Bears have jumped to first place in the NFC as, most likely, the best team in 2006 football.

That seemed evident last week when they won a 37-6 laugher from previously undefeated Seattle.

Come Out Passing

As underrated quarterback Rex Grossman delivered two touchdown passes, the Bears opened a 20-6 halftime lead over Seattle, then came out passing in the third quarter as if they were behind.

These Bears are an uncommonly well balanced team -- with a tough defense and a tough runner, Thomas Jones, to match their aggressive passing -- but it is their first-down, attack-pass philosophy that sets them apart.

Against the Seahawks, for instance, Grossman set up one touchdown with two successive bombs.

The first was an arcing throw that Bernard Berrian tracked down in Seahawk territory.

The second, a laser shot to Berrian streaking through the end zone, just missed.

But Chicago's message was clear: We are after you in every situation.

Other teams, after completing a big pass, like to run, apparently feeling that having proved they can pass, they must prove they can run.

The Bears are different.

Fear Interceptions

The San Diego Chargers are still playing the game a more traditional way -- a losing way. The other night, for instance, aiming to protect a six-point lead, they ran and ran.

Their coach, Marty Schottenheimer, was continuing a lifelong commitment to taking no chances. Against Baltimore, the Chargers, with a good new quarterback, Philip Rivers, started the game moving downfield on pass plays. But with a halftime lead of 13-7, Schottenheimer decided to sit on it.

Authorizing few passes through his scoreless second half, he lost out, 16-13, as Steve McNair rose up to beat him with 41 seconds to play

Too many other pro clubs have the same play-it-safe policy, probably fearing interceptions.

The Bears, as their 4-0 record suggests, have been showing more spunk.

McNair's Big Night

Donovan McNabb's runs and passes for Philadelphia won Monday night's game against Green Bay, 31-9, certifying that the 2006 Packers are a clear 2006 loser. Their big years seem so long ago.

The Packers have been good for Green Bay, and good for pro football, all this time, but along with most NFC teams this season they've been struggling.

The question in a year like this is always the same. In the remaining games of a parity season, which teams will eventually emerge?

The odds favor those that take to the air.

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