Unmasked: NFL fines coaches, teams for not covering faces
NFL coaches thumbed their collective — and exposed — noses at the NFL’s mask mandate in Week 2.
The league responded with hefty fines of $100,000 per coach and $250,000 per club. The first three to get fined were Denver’s Vic Fangio, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and Seattle’s Pete Carroll, according to a person with knowledge of the punishment who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the coaches were not identified.
The punishment was meted out a week after the NFL reminded team personnel on the sidelines about the rules for wearing face coverings during the coronavirus pandemic, lest they put the fledgling season at risk.
More coaches and clubs can expect similar punishments as the memo last week from Troy Vincent, who oversees the league’s football operations, was largely ignored throughout the weekend.
Among other offenders: Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Colts coach Frank Reich and Rams coach Sean McVay.
Capping a weekend of deliberate defiance and/or desultory disobedience, Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who said last week he felt Vincent’s memo was directed at him, and Saints coach Sean Payton were shown on a split screen Monday night, both of them breaking the rules.
Gruden wore his mask like a chin strap, and Payton sported his gaiter like a turtleneck.
Following the Raiders’ 34-24 win over the Saints, Gruden revealed he’d had COVID-19 and apologized for violating the rules.
"I’m doing my best," Gruden said. "I’ve had the virus. I’m doing my best. I’m very sensitive about it. I’m calling the plays. I apologize. If I get fined, I will have to pay the fine."
The scenes were similar Sunday with head coaches and assistants apparently finding it too hard to keep their faces covered as required under the league’s COVID-19 protocols with either a mask, gaiter or face shield. Players, who, like the coaches, are subject to daily COVID-19 tests, are exempt from the face covering requirements.
Some coaches such as Belichick, McDaniels and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wore their masks or gaiters over their mouths but not noses. Others such as Carroll, Spagnuolo and Fangio wore their face coverings around their chins or necks, exposing both their mouths and noses.
In his strongly worded memo, Vincent said teams "must remain vigilant and disciplined in following the processes and protocols put in place by not only the league, union and clubs, but also by state and local governments."
Vincent added: "Becoming careless or ignoring face covering and physical distancing requirements will put the 2020 season at risk."
The rules don’t apply to players, but all other individuals with bench area access, including coaches and members of the club medical staff, are required to wear face coverings at all times.
Failure to do so, Vincent warned in his memo, "will result in accountability measures being imposed against offending individuals and/or clubs. The face covering must be worn as designed so that it securely fits across the wearer’s nose and mouth to prevent the transmission of the virus."
Now, let’s get to some of the more curious calls in Week 2:
HILL’S HELMET: Tyreek Hill got away with ripping off his helmet after scoring a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, something that helped the Chiefs come back to beat the Chargers in overtime as Patrick Mahomes improved to 6-0 in games Kansas City has trailed by double digits.
Hill hauled in a 54-yard TD catch from Mahomes to pull the Chiefs to 17-15 with 12:58 remaining, but as he tumbled out of the end zone, he ripped off his helmet, which should have been flagged as unsportsmanlike conduct.
That would have given the Chargers the choice of the 15-yard penalty enforced on the conversion or the kickoff. That could have allowed the Chargers to push the Chiefs back to the 17, effectively taking away the 2-point conversion attempt.
Instead, the Chiefs converted the 2-point pass from the 2, tying the game at 17.
Harrison Butker’s 30-yard field goal tied it at 20 at the end of regulation and his 58-yarder in overtime won it.
FALCONS FREEZE: The Atlanta Falcons inexplicably failed to go after an onside kick by the Cowboys, a collective brain lock that helped make them the only team in NFL history to lose despite scoring 39 points and not turning the ball over.
Dallas trailed 20-0 after one quarter, 29-10 at halftime and 39-24 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. But after the Cowboys pulled to 39-37 with 1:49 remaining and no timeouts left, the Falcons watched Greg Zuerlein’s onside kick slowly skitter the requisite 10 yards without diving for the ball.
Instead of any of five nearby Falcons smothering the ball and ending the game, Cowboys cornerback C.J. Goodwin slipped in between the frozen Falcons and recovered the ball. That led to Zeuerline’s 46-yard field goal as time expired.