CORTLAND, N.Y. -- A backup running back angrily fired the ball at a rookie safety who happens to be the son of the running backs coach, triggering a practice melee Monday that involved about 20 players -- including Tim Tebow -- at the New York Jets' training camp.
Afterward, quarterback Mark Sanchez strongly denounced the behavior.
"There's no excuse for it," said Sanchez, noting that he watched from an "advantageous" position. "There's no throwing the ball at a teammate and there's no shoving a guy out of bounds into the signs. One, it doesn't look good. Two, it sends the wrong message to our team. We want to take care of our guys ... I don't like to see it."
McKnight ran a sweep to the right sideline and received a hard push from Lynn, whose father, Anthony, is McKnight's position coach. McKnight, a few yards out of bounds, fired the ball at Lynn and came toward him, throwing a punch. Cornerbacks Julian Posey and Donnie Fletcher, trailing the play, joined Lynn and went after McKnight and slammed him to the ground.
D'Anton Lynn joked that his father "was probably rooting for Joe."
They fell to the ground about 25 feet from the sideline and within seconds, there was a huge pileup a few feet from the fence that separates fans from the field. To get there, the players trampled advertising placards that lined the periphery of the field.
Tebow was one of the first players on the scene, trying to play the role of peacemaker. An angry Rex Ryan, perhaps concerned that it was so close to the fans, barged into the melee and started pulling away players.
It took only about a minute to restore order. There were no apparent injuries. Some players, off to the side, made light of the situation by taking fake swings at each other.
Later Ryan said it wasn't even close to the nastiest fight he's ever seen. He said they had "way better ones" in 2009, his first year as coach.
But he admitted that "I don't think I've ever seen a sign get knocked over in a fight because it happened on the sideline. But it wasn't a melee. Guys weren't throwing helmets. Sometimes when you're competing, things like that happen. I think we've had enough fights for camp, so I don't expect too many more after this one."
Ryan said he agreed with Sanchez, citing the importance of protecting teammates.
In the heat of the moment, however, McKnight was not overly concerned about his teammates.
"Just competing ... got a little frustrated, and it just went from there," McKnight said.
Asked if he was trying to hurt Lynn, McKnight shrugged and said: "If you're fighting, what are you going to do, just love-tap him? It's a fight. It's football. Ain't nothing out of line."
The brawl won't help the Jets' image. After a turmoil-filled 2011 season, they've tried hard to rebuild their locker-room chemistry. Monday was an isolated incident, but it probably won't be perceived that way from the outside.
Ryan spoke to both players after practice, and he also addressed the team.
"He tried to let everybody know, 'This is us, we're all we've got,' " said tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, paraphrasing the coach. "Ultimately, this is our team, so it's important we protect one another."
D'Anton Lynn, trying to make the team as an undrafted free agent from Penn State, said, "Lost my temper for a second." Next thing he knew, he was on the bottom of a massive pile.
"I could hardly breathe because everybody was on top of me," said Lynn, adding that he'd never been involved in a fight.
McKnight seemed bemused by the entire incident.
"I like being on the bottom of the pile; you get cheap shots in," he said with a laugh, adding that he wouldn't take a cheap shot at a teammate.
McKnight said Ryan told him to "keep playing hard." He said he didn't even realize he was fighting his position coach's son.
"It was something that just happened, spur of the moment," he said. "I'm over it now. We're teammates. I love him, just like I love his dad. We're moving on."
Later in practice, McKnight took a hard hit and walked slowly to the sideline. He called it a "stinger," proclaiming he was fine.
After eight days of practice, the Jets are tired of hitting each other and want to play another team. That comes Friday night, when they open their preseason against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I think we're looking to hit someone from a different team for once," D'Anton Lynn said.