The NFL's crackdown on illegal and allegedly illegal hits -- especially those levied on quarterbacks -- continues on unabated. One player who is a bit lighter in the wallet this week is New England Patriots defensive lineman Myron Pryor(notes), who put Brett Favre(notes) out of the game in the Pats' 28-18 win over the Minnesota Vikings. It was a big week for fines of this sort; so big that a boomerang effect was evident in one case -- Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons was fined $7,500 for a late hit, and Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery(notes) was busted for the same amount after a late hit on Clemons.
However, Pryor's fine is the one that seems to be sticking in the collective craw of everyone who watched the game. It's clear from the video that Pryor hits Favre underneath his right shoulder and that the contact to Favre's chin was an inevitable and incidental part of both players being in motion.
A league spokesperson explained that the fine was issued due to "unnecessary roughness; specifically, on a pass play, he unnecessarily struck the quarterback in the head and neck area."
The explanation seems absolutely ridiculous after seeing the play again. There is no visible effort, obvious or circumspect or otherwise, on Pryor's part, to do specific harm to Favre. It was a play in which a defender tackled a quarterback, and if you're going to fine plays like this ... well, this is where the "they might as well put dresses on the quarterbacks" crowd sounds more reasonable than ever.
Former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira, who is now paid by FOX Sports to weigh in on all officiating matters and is as much a league apologist as you'll ever find, wrote this on Nov. 3:
...the Vikings' Brett Favre got knocked out of the Patriots game with a cut to the chin. However, in my opinion, the hit by New England defensive tackle Myron Pryor on Favre appeared to be a perfectly legal play.
And when Pereira was asked by Boston radio station WEEI on Friday whether he was surprised by the fine given to Pryor, Pereira surprisingly stood by his story and even expounded on the legitimacy of the hit on Favre from a "legal" perspective.
"Yeah, because I didn't think that there was helmet-to-helmet contact," he said. "I did look at it again, and [Favre] did sustain the big gash on his chin ... maybe [the league] looked at it again, and felt that there was some type of contact with the top of the helmet. But he didn't lower his head. I felt that it was a legal play, and I said that afterwards. But they're clearly out to protect the quarterbacks, and they're out to protect defenseless receivers. There have been a lot of quarterbacks going out with injuries, so that's the stance they're taking. But if they really did see that there was helmet-to-helmet contact, there can't be much. And $7,500 is a garden-variety fine -- nothing like the ones that are being thrown around [for helmet-to-helmet contact] now. They obviously felt that it was a foul."
If the NFL felt it was a foul, where is the fine on the officiating crew -- you know, the same people who didn't throw a flag on that hit? Pereira then said that he doesn't believe the stature of the player has anything to do with the nature of the fines, but I seriously doubt Pryor would have been dinged at all for putting a clean takeout hit on, say, Max Hall(notes) or Jimmy Clausen(notes).
In the larger sense, this fine -- which even the NFL's most prominent officiating apologist cannot find a way to validate -- is indicative of the absolute (and at least semi-blind) power wielded by the offices of commissioner Roger Goodell. The league has clearly taken the stance that it will be an arbitrary judge of what is and what is not legal, and if that digs up or goes against things that aren't actually in the rule book ... well, that's just too bad. It's a worrisome trend that's just getting more and more out of hand.