You can argue about the discipline of Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson and Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan for Sunday’s fight during the Texans' win over the Titans at Reliant Stadium in a lot of different ways and be right.
I’m fine with things as they came out: The league slapped Johnson and Finnegan with $25,000 fines each and didn’t issue suspensions.
Johnson’s a solid citizen and a star player. Finnegan is a guy with a history of fines, including multiple times this season, and has been warned by the league.
Reputations and resumes didn’t seem to factor into uneven penalties here, although I think antagonizing is less of a crime than pummeling the alleged antagonist.
I have received lots of tweets and other messages basically saying: "If the league is trying to discourage such events, how can it not suspend Johnson for the big blows he threw no matter what was done to instigate them? If you’re a good guy with a big profile, do you get a one-time pass to rip off a helmet and throw haymakers?"
You shouldn’t. But the league’s initial penalties for bad behavior are fines and warnings, so Johnson’s penalty is consistent with that.
Therefore, I have no major beef.
I do have a few thoughts, so here's a five-pack:
The idea that Johnson was not suspended because the Texans are about to play the Eagles on Thursday night in a game that will be televised by the NFL Network is ridiculous. It’s unfathomable how many people believe the league could think that way. Yes, Johnson is great, but the game will draw huge ratings whether he’s on the field or not. Bad games, bad teams and missing players don’t make people hesitant to watch. History, and the ratings from Thanksgiving, consistently shows us that. The league is not influenced by such things when making disciplinary decisions.
Also ridiculous is the idea that the next corner covering Johnson will look to irk him the way Finnegan did and can take him out of his game with such an approach. If Eagles defensive backs think that way -- and I do not expect they will -- Johnson will be celebrating touchdowns at Lincoln Financial Field.
I wish the Titans had at least one additional defensive leader who could talk some sense to Finnegan. Chris Hope has the mindset and the authority, but as a defensive back, he may be too close or Finnegan may have tuned him out. In Finnegan’s first couple seasons as a seventh-rounder out of Samford, he was a sweetheart of a guy. He figured to be a long-term leader. Colts president Bill Polian praised Finnegan when I wrote of him as a breakout player, and even back in 2008, Johnson tabbed the cornerback as “a little irritating.” In the past few years, Finnegan became super-sensitive. He battled with the local media over stuff that simply has not been worthy of such haggling and name-calling. He has not found any balance between how to be feisty, and even antagonistic, on the field without it affecting his play. Nashville is a pretty mild market, and he has been a very popular player. But his locker room demeanor and public image have lined up less and less accurately. (I expect an icy reaction to this piece, rather than a conversation about it, for sure.) Images of him getting crushed in the fight and then egging on the crowd with a smile in the midst of an ugly loss will not sit well with Titans faithful.
Two things were overshadowed by the fight: Johnson became the first player in league history to catch 60 passes in each of his first eight seasons. “I did something that no one else has done for the first time, so I’m excited about it,” he said. Also, Finnegan actually did a pretty nice job on Johnson in the game. He helped keep Johnson in front of the defense, and held him to nine catches for 56 yards (6.2 yards per catch) and no reception longer than 21 yards.
Johnson was apologetic after the game. Finnegan did not talk, although I am told he was willing to comment but no one approached him while he was at his locker -- which was not for too long. I have left him a message that has so far not been returned. Finnegan regularly appears on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville on Monday nights. (Disclaimer: I’m part of the station’s morning show.) The station promoted it Monday afternoon. He is usually there for about 30 minutes starting at 6 p.m. CT. Here’s the link if you want to listen.
Update: Finnegan's comments are here.