The NFL can be a mysterious and scandalous place that fosters unlikely stories and even less likely outcomes, but a conspiracy theory currently swirling around the father of a Green Bay Packers‘ lineman ranks among the all-timers.
The fantastic tale began last Sunday, September 18, during a game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady had grown frustrated with his offense’s inability to move the ball against a division rival that has been Tampa Bay’s greatest foe during his tenure there, at least in the regular season.
Brady began an adamant display of displeasure following a broken play in the second half, to which Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore took immediate exception. Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans witnessed the altercation from the sidelines, prompting him to storm back onto the field and strike Lattimore with both hands, knocking his long-time and hated rival to the turf.
A scrum between both teams ensued and when the dust had settled, referees had ejected both Evans and Lattimore for their respective roles in the non-sanctioned violence. On Monday, the league office suspended Evans for one game due to his conduct, per the NFL Network — a punishment that was upheld following an appeal on Tuesday.
The conspiracy theory now in circulation revolves around the official who handed down Evans’ initial suspension, Jon Runyan Sr., who serves as the NFL’s vice president of rules and policy administration. The elder Runyan happens to be the father of Packers’ offensive guard Jon Runyan Jr., while Green Bay happens to be the team the Bucs will play on September 25 down their Pro Bowl receiver.
Packers’ Runyan Jr. Responds to Claims of Bias Against Bucs’ Evans
Runyan Jr. was asked by media members Wednesday about a conspiracy theory alleging his father ruled unfairly in Evans’ case at the behest of the Packers organization so as to provide the team with an unfair competitive advantage.
“He was just doing his job,” Runyan Jr. said, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN. “He’s been doing that job for over a half-decade now. It just so happens that we’re playing the Buccaneers this week. Everybody’s trying to make it this conspiracy theory, which it’s not.”
“[It was a] lapse in judgment on the field,” Runyan Jr. continued, this time speaking of Evans’ conduct against the Saints. “Sometimes, that stuff happens. There’s a whole conspiracy theory going down, and it’s not true. That’s just how it goes. You can’t be running 15 yards trying to headhunt somebody when the play is over. It is funny, though, how stuff works out sometimes.”
Evans’ Absence Looms Large as Both Packers, Bucs Struggle in Passing Game
While the notion that an NFL vice president is playing petty politics in an attempt to influence a Week 3 matchup borders on the ludicrous, the reality that Evans’ absence will impact the Bucs significantly on offense can’t be ignored.
Tampa Bay is 2-0 but has been able to muster just 39 points in those two victories this season. Brady has been a far cry from his normal self, throwing for just 402 total yards, two touchdowns and an interception on a 59 percent completion rate, per ESPN.
Evans has been one of the few options working for Brady thus far in 2022, pulling down eight catches for 132 yards and a touchdown through two contests.
The Packers and two-time reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers have dealt with similar struggles, scraping their way to a 1-1 record despite an uncommon ineptitude moving the ball through the air.
Rodgers has tallied just 459 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 69.5 percent passing, per Pro Football Reference, while Green Bay’s offense has accumulated just 34 points through two games.
Both the Packers’ and the Bucs’ defenses figure to make Sunday something of a slug fest. However, with limited weapons and underwhelming track records thus far this season, whoever produces a better effort between Rodgers and Brady is likely to lead his team to victory.