So it was again this week after the league handed out $175,000 in fines to Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson.
The league said it will be "enforcing discipline at a higher level" for illegal hits on defenseless players. And defensive players suggested that this could mean the end of football - and quite possibly civilization - as we know it.
"That's what it's starting to feel like," Eagles safety Quintin Mikell said. "Maybe we should go out there and play seven-on-seven and let the receivers run around and catch the ball and just grab a flag or something. It's frustrating. But those are the rules."
"It's a physical game," said Kurt Coleman, the Eagles' rookie safety. "That's why we love it. That's why America loves football. It's a man's sport. It's tough to say you can't hit somebody as hard, or you can't hit them in a certain way."
Actually, the NFL didn't say that. Contrary to many erroneous media reports, the league didn't change any of its rules this week regarding hits on defenseless players. What Coleman and Mikell could do last week to Falcons receivers, they still can do this week to Titans receivers.
The only thing really newsworthy that the league said is that it might start handing out suspensions to players for illegal hits. And even that's not really news. It has suspended players before for that.
In 2002, safeties Rodney Harrison (Chargers) and Kenoy Kennedy (Broncos) both got one-game suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits, Harrison's for a lick on Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.
For a while now, defensive players have been prohibited from hitting a defenseless receiver in the head or neck area with their helmet, facemask, shoulder or forearm. The only thing that changed earlier this year was what constituted a defenseless receiver.
In March, the league's owners approved a competition committee proposal that made it illegal to hit a receiver in the head or neck area until he completed a catch and had an opportunity to protect himself.
"We have tried to draw a very, very bright line as far as [what is] a defenseless player, and how to go about initiating contact," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who co-chairs the competition committee along with Falcons president Rich McKay.
"We have a responsibility to protect our players. I think the potential for suspension will get some people's attention. There's a misunderstanding here. People have come out and said this is a violent game. It's a physical game.
"It's not going to take away any of the aggressiveness. Basically, there are [hitting and tackling] techniques being used that are unacceptable. They create a situation where a player's safety is in jeopardy. The league office isn't saying don't run hard, don't hit hard, don't tackle hard. They're saying don't use these [illegal] tactics."
Robinson was fined $50,000 for his hit on the Eagles' DeSean Jackson. Good luck finding a player in the league, including Jackson, who agrees with the league's determination that the hit was illegal. At least $50,000 worth of illegal.
"It's football," said Coleman. "A guy [Jackson] came across [and he hit him]. I thought it was a clean hit. I don't think he led with his head. It was just where he hit him. He kind of hit him under his chin and it knocked his head back. It's tough. It's tough.
"There's an intimidation factor. If a wide receiver or running back or whoever it may be isn't intimidated to come across, it's easy for them. They're not going to be scared. But if you have the intimidation factor, they'll drop balls. That's the name of the game."
STILL LOOKING FOR A RING
Sunday's game in Nashville will pit the league's two longest-tenured coaches against each other. Jeff Fisher is in his 16th full season at the helm of the Titans. Andy Reid is in his 12th year with the Eagles.
In a league that generally sees a half-dozen coaches replaced each year, it's amazing that Fisher and Reid have lasted as long as they have, particularly since neither of them has managed to win a Super Bowl yet. Fourteen postseason appearances between them, including two trips to The Big Game. But no ring.
"You have to credit ownership," Fisher said. "In my case, Mr. [Bud] Adams has been a great owner and understands this game and understands the importance of continuity and stability. I think that's the case also with the Luries."
Bill Cowher holds the record for the longest stay in one place before finally winning a Super Bowl. Didn't get a ring until his 14th season with the Steelers. Probably wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to coach that long without winning a Super Bowl in more than a handful of NFL locations.
Reid's failure to win a Super Bowl the last 11 years is a daily topic of conversation in Philadelphia, and will be until he either finally wins one or is fired. Nashville being Nashville, Fisher hasn't faced quite the same kind of public scrutiny that Reid has in Philly.
Does he dwell much on the fact that he still doesn't have a ring?
"Every day," he said earlier this week in a conference call with the Philadelphia media. "That's my job. That's why Mr. Adams hired me. That's why I come to work. That's the goal. Immediately, as we're talking right now, the focus is on the next opponent. But that's why we were hired."
TITANS' EX-EAGLE FACTOR
One team's garbage often turns out to be another team's gold bullion. Case in point: defensive end Jason Babin and linebacker Will Witherspoon.
The Eagles had no use for either Babin or Witherspoon after last season, releasing Witherspoon and opting not to re-sign Babin, who was an unrestricted free agent.
Now, both are key contributors to a Tennessee Titans defense that could be a bear for Kevin Kolb and the Eagles offense to deal with Sunday.
Babin and Witherspoon have combined for nine of the Titans' league-best 24 sacks. Babin, who is tied for fourth in the league in sacks with six, and Witherspoon are part of a unit that is fourth in the league points allowed.
The Eagles' decision to release Witherspoon was largely financial. He was scheduled to make $5 million in salary this year, which is a lot of money for a guy they weren't even sure would be starting for them if they kept him around.
The decision not to hang on to Babin was a little less clear. He was cheap and played pretty well in a limited role as a pass-rush specialist last year. He ended up signing a 1-year, $1 million deal with the Titans.
"We felt like both of them would fit in to our scheme," Fisher said. "Will, in particular, is benefiting from having an offseason and a training camp in our defense as compared to the situation he had there [he was acquired from the Rams in a trade in mid-October].
"Jason is just really having fun. We edge him. We keep him out wide. And he's off to a great start. And he's benefited from some good players around him."
Andy Reid said he's not surprised by the success Babin and Witherspoon are having with the Titans.
"I have a lot of respect for both of those guys," he said. "Babin is a high-motor, high-energy [guy]. I really enjoyed him as a person and as a player. And the same with [Witherspoon]. He's very intelligent, flies around.
"They fit perfect in that defense and what they're asking them to do. And I'm happy for both of them."
FROM THE LIP (Cowboys version):
* "If you whine and cry about the past and what's happened, you look back instead of looking forward." - Cowboys coach Wade Phillips on his team's 1-4 start.
* "The most talented teams ain't won the Super Bowl since I've been in the league. It's the ones that play well most of the time and get a few breaks. I mean, right now, we have the worst luck in football. As a human, you're saying, 'Man, can we get a break?' You know what I'm saying? But sometimes you have to create your own luck, man." - Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears.
* "A lot of people say the old saying, 'You are what you are' when you look at 1-4. We are not that. Our team is doing some very good things." - Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
* "None of us here thought we were going to be in this situation. You don't work as hard as we do and commit to every day doing the things we do to be like this. It's not fun. It's not enjoyable, and you have to figure out a way to win." - Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
* "I can't believe they're 1-4 with all the talent they've got on that team. Something's not right there, but we definitely know they're still a very good football team. If we can go there and put them to 1-5 and us go to 5-2, that's going to be very beneficial when it gets close to December and January." - Giants tight end Kevin Boss, whose team plays the Cowboys Monday night.
BY THE NUMBERS:
* The Eagles have intercepted at least one pass in nine straight regular-season games dating back to last season.
* The Eagles have lost six of their last nine games in the week before their bye. They are 11-0 under Andy Reid the week after the bye.
* Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson has 38 career games with at least two rushing touchdowns. That's the most in NFL history. Emmitt Smith is second with 36.
* Six weeks into the season, there have been just two games between NFC East teams. The Redskins and Cowboys played in Week 1 and the Redskins and Eagles faced each other in Week 4.
* Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is 1-11 in games decided by four points or fewer. That lone win came 2 weeks ago - a 28-26 victory over the Lions.
* Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel notched his 10th career touchdown reception last week against Houston. He's the first player who began his career after 1933 to have at least 10 career receptions and have them all be for touchdowns.
To the NFL owners and players, who interrupted their stalemate over how to slice up their $9 billion-a-year revenue pie this week long enough to do something good for former players stricken with ALS. They agreed to expand benefits provided under the "88 Plan" to include reimbursement of expenses to qualifying players who are suffering from this horrible disease. The "88 Plan," named after Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, was developed in 2006 to provide coverage to former players diagnosed with dementia. Eligible players with ALS will receive the same financial benefits - up to $88,000 per year for institutional care or up to $50,000 for home custodial care plus costs for certain physician services, medical equipment and medication. To date, the "88 Plan" has awarded $9.7 million toward the care of 132 former players.
To former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell for one of the lamest mea culpas by an athlete in recent memory. In an interview with Josina Anderson on Showtime's "Inside the NFL," Russell, perhaps the biggest draft bust in NFL history, acknowledged that he made a lot of mistakes after being selected by the Raiders with the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, and that he's really sorry for those mistakes. But he, uh, isn't sure what those mistakes were. "I don't know where it went wrong," he said. "But for the things that did go wrong, I take full blame for whatever was my fault and the things that did happen." Now, that's some big-time accountability right there.
DOMO'S RANKINGS (last week's ranking in parentheses)
1. Steelers 4-1 (2)
2. Colts 4-2 (3)
3. Ravens 4-2 (1)
4. Jets 4-2 (4)
5. Giants 4-2 (5)
6. Texans 4-2 (7)
7. Titans 4-2 (9)
8. Saints 4-2 (10)
9. Patriots 4-1 (11)
10. Bears 4-2 (12)
11. Packers 3-3 (6)
12. Eagles 4-2 (15)
13. Falcons 4-2 (8)
14. Redskins 3-3 (13)
15. Dolphins 3-2 (14)
16. Vikings 2-3 (19)
17. Bengals 2-3 (17)
18. Chiefs 3-2 (18)
19. Bucs 3-2 (16)
20. Cowboys 1-4 (20)
21. Cardinals 3-2 (21)
22. Seahawks 3-2 (29)
23. Rams 3-3 (23)
24. Lions 1-5 (24)
25. Broncos 2-4 (25)
26. Jaguars 3-3 (22)
27. Chargers 2-4 (23)
28. 49ers 1-5 (30)
29. Browns 1-5 (27)
30. Raiders 2-4 (28)
31. Panthers 0-6 (31)
32. Bills 0-5 (32)