NFL knows how to do drama

The NFL knows drama, on and off the field.

During a season played in the shadow of a potential labor

stoppage – yes, folks, possibly no pro football in 2011 – the

headlines have shifted from the sports sections to the gossip pages

and even to the police blotters.

Placed in the spotlight as much for news away from the games as

for what they could and would do playing were such big names as Ben

Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Randy Moss and Braylon Edwards.

Any season has its plots and subplots but this season’s story

lines have ranged from unsettling to bizarre to bewildering.

ROETHLISBERGER RETURNS – The two-time Super Bowl-winning

quarterback was suspended from the Pittsburgh Steelers for six

games in April by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell following

allegations that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a Georgia

college student in March. The case brought no criminal charges

against him, and Roethlisberger proclaimed his innocence.

Just before the season, Goodell shortened Roethlisberger’s ban

to four games, citing the quarterback’s new commitment to making

good decisions.

Before the season, the common wisdom was that the Steelers would

be lucky to be 2-2 when he returned. Surprise, surprise. Pittsburgh

went an impressive 3-1 without their QB and currently look as

strong as any team.

FAVRE’S FIASCOES – First, there were three Vikings players being

dispatched to Mississippi during training camp to recruit Favre.

They succeeded, and he returned to Minnesota for his 20th season in

the league and second with the team.

Next, the Vikes plummeted toward the bottom of the standings

while Favre searched for a deep threat with WR Sidney Rice

sidelined. Then came a Deadspin report that Favre, while playing

for the Jets in 2008, sent lewd photos and inappropriate text

messages to Jenn Sterger, a game hostess for the team.

Enough? Hardly.

Already bothered by tendinitis in his right elbow, Favre then

sustained two fractures in his left foot against his other former

team, the Packers. That led to a week of speculation whether he

could play at New England and extend his incredible record of

consecutive starts to 292. He played, of course – only to leave

midway through the fourth quarter with a gash in his chin that

required 10 stitches.

Oh yeah, Minnesota got Favre his deep threat, which leads us to

WHERE’S RANDY? – For now, Randy Moss is in Tennessee. He began

the season with New England, for which he was more decoy than

dominator, making only nine receptions. The Vikings coughed up a

third-round draft pick and traded for him, but all they seemingly

got was his lanky frame. Moss’ heart and soul weren’t in it – even

Favre admitted Moss didn’t go hard on every down. Moss apparently

even said he wouldn’t feed his dog the food a caterer supplied last

Friday after Minnesota’s practice.

Then, Moss’ soliloquy of praise for the Patriots and Bill

Belichick while criticizing Vikings coaches after Minnesota’s loss

on Oct. 31 led coach Brad Childress to waive Moss two days

later.

SIT DOWN DONOVAN – In the final two minutes of their loss at

Detroit, the Redskins benched Donovan McNabb, the six-time Pro Bowl

quarterback they paid dearly to acquire from Philadelphia in the

offseason. Coach Mike Shanahan said immediately after the game that

backup Rex Grossman had a better understanding of the two-minute

offense. The following day, the coach changed his explanation to

nagging hamstring injuries kept McNabb from practicing at full

speed and created doubts about his ”cardiovascular

endurance.”

Left unanswered: How do you bench anyone for Rex Grossman?

JETS SHENANIGANS – From Rex Ryan’s cursing on ”Hard Knocks” to

All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis’ holdout to WR Braylon Edwards’

arrest for DWI and subsequent one-quarter benching, the Jets have

been a tabloid’s dream. Especially when a TV Azteca female reporter

said she felt uncomfortable in the team’s locker room, which led to

the league developing a workplace conduct program.

RAMPING UP PUNISHMENT – After a particularly brutal Week 6,

Goodell and chief assistant Ray Anderson clamped down on illegal

hits and flagrant fouls, threatening suspensions to offenders. No

one has been banned yet – a helmet hit by Green Bay’s Nick Collins

drew a $50,000 fine Monday – and the league has handed down a bevy

of fines, including $175,000 to three players for such hits on Oct.

17: Pittsburgh LB James Harrison ($75,000), who briefly

contemplated retirement; Falcons CB Dunta Robinson and Patriots S

Brandon Meriweather ($50,000 each).

The most common complaint from players was succinctly voiced by

Cowboys LB Bradie James:

”We’re going to be playing flag football in about five

years.”