Despite rules designed to curb the players' pain and suffering, the league has been ravaged by injuries during the first two weeks. So a tactic by the New York Giants in the Monday night game came across as a mockery of the valid concern for player safety.
The St Louis Rams were threatening to score when two Giants defenders collapsed simultaneously. Replays seemed to indicate the players were feigning injury, evidently to stop the clock and slow the Rams' no-huddle attack.
Two days later, the NFL dispatched a warning to all teams that such play-acting could result in fines, suspensions and a loss of draft picks.
Whether teams will take the threat seriously is questionable.
Players and coaches acknowledge that the practice is common, to the point of designating which players will take the fall.
"It happens all the time," said Mike Shanahan, the Washington Redskins coach, who intimated that previous admonitions from the league have been ignored.
One of the actors, Deon Grant, the Giants safety, insisted he had hurt his knee, displaying the swelling to reporters.
Still, the video looks suspicious, especially with teammates showing little concern as they step over the two fallen players.
It is unreasonable to expect on-field officials to crack down.
But the NFL can and should review video and punish an obvious violator. That might halt the unsportsmanlike deception and stop detracting from the serious mission of reducing injuries.