CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The mounting frustrations of Jets players itching to play a meaningful game surfaced Monday morning, as a brawl involving more than 20 players erupted near the sideline and spilled outside the playing field.
It was the latest incident for a team that cannot avoid controversy. Last season ended with the team pointing fingers after a disappointing finish. Last week, just days into training camp, Rex Ryan had to tell his team to mind what it says to the media. And, of course, there was the whole Tim Tebow thing.
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The melee began with a seemingly innocent tackle, but quickly escalated when safety D'Anton Lynn, the son of running backs coach Anthony Lynn, pushed Joe McKnight out of bounds after the running back took a handoff from Greg McElroy. McKnight then threw the football at Lynn, before running toward him to deliver the first punch (though it didn't land). Both players became tangled as cornerbacks Donnie Fletcher and Julian Posey helped Lynn push McKnight through the barrier. Within seconds, defensive and offensive players raced over, sending reporters ducking for cover.
The crowd cheered on the fight, as Lynn and McKnight lay underneath the pile. Lynn barely could breathe. But McKnight took delight in the hysteria. "It was fun," he said. "I love being on the bottom. You get the cheap shots in."
McKnight said he didn't know whom he was fighting until he was told later. In the moment, he only saw red -- not green and white.
"If you're fighting, what -- you're just going to just love tap him?" he said, matter-of-factly. "You're going to try to hit him."
The running back also didn't think he was in the wrong for firing the ball at Lynn. "It's football," McKnight bristled. "Ain't nothing out of line."
McKnight and Lynn said they hadn't spoken to one another immediately after practice ended, but each insisted "it was nothing personal."
"I'm over it now," McKnight said. "We're teammates. I love him. Just like I love his dad. So we're moving on."
Lynn said, "It happens a lot, so we'll just shake hands and brush it over."
Backup quarterback Tim Tebow rushed in to help restore order, as did Ryan.
Ryan, in a statement, said he doesn't characterize the incident as a "melee," per se, because "guys weren't throwing helmets . . . I think we've had enough fights for camps, so I don't expect too many more."
Mark Sanchez joked that he watched the melee from "an advantageous distance." But after practice, the starting quarterback voiced his displeasure at the incident -- and especially McKnight's football toss.
"You throw the ball at somebody in a game, you're going to get 15 yards," Sanchez said. "So I don't know if that's a good habit to get into."
The Jets, who played an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday, have their first preseason game Friday night in Cincinnati. And given their growing list of injuries -- especially on offense -- the excessive roughhousing didn't sit well with Sanchez.
"There's no excuse for it," Sanchez said, visibly irritated. "There's no throwing the ball at a teammate, there's no shoving a guy out of bounds into the signs. I don't see how that makes us any better. Take it to the brink, give your last shove, look tough at each other, and walk away.
"Yeah, we're playing against each other," he added. "But we've got to play together on Friday. So that doesn't help."
McKnight, who suffered a "stinger" after being thrown to the ground by backup defensive lineman Damon Harrison later in practice, said Ryan spoke to him before they walked off the field and encouraged the running back to "keep playing hard."
Lynn didn't say whether he spoke to his father after the brawl, but he speculated familial allegiance had gone out the window in the moment.
Said the younger Lynn: "He was probably rooting for Joe."