During last Saturday night’s game between the Steelers and Bengals, the officials threw plenty of flags in an effort to control the game. (The failure to throw a flag on Pittsburgh linebackers coach Joey Porter may have decided the outcome.) Before the game, the NFL tried to ensure that the two teams would be on their best behavior.
It didn’t work.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league office took multiple precautions in the days and hours preceding kickoff. First, notice was given to all players and coaches regarding the importance of good sportsmanship. Second, the league spoke to both head coaches before the game. Third, a video was sent on Monday of wild-card week regarding in-game behavior. Fourth, the officials were reminded to maintain control of the game. Fifth, the teams were told that, while no one wants a penalty or ejection to determine the outcome of a game, the officials will do what they have to do to ensure control. Sixth, the league reminded all coaches that they must maintain control of their sidelines and players, since behavior of players is a reflection of what coaches will tolerate.
The fact that these extreme precautions didn’t work shows that the NFL needs to do more, if the NFL truly wants to solve the problem. Given the gigantic audience that the Steelers-Bengals game delivered and the non-stop attention that the uglier moments of the game created (including attention given to those uglier moments by the NFL itself), maybe the right solution will be a solution that creates the impression that the NFL doesn’t condone such behavior, but that ultimately doesn’t end it.