My bet is if Orlando Brown and referee Jeff Triplette were locked in a room right now for 20 minutes, they'd come out of it following a handshake, having apologized sincerely to each other and having agreed on what punishment, if any, should be assessed to either party. Triplette has made it clear he is sorry for accidentally firing the equivalent of a rock into Brown's eye. Brown has made it clear that not only should he not have shoved Triplette, but that he expects to be punished for doing so. The matter should be resolved as quickly and as fairly as possible.

But no. The NFL suspended Brown indefinitely yesterday and said that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue won't make a decision on the length of the suspension or possible fines until after the Pro Bowl. That would mean February. As a result, an issue that should be resolved as swiftly as possible will hang out there for more than six weeks for resentment to fester, for pressure to build, for the sporting public to chose sides and turn one position or another into a crusade. What football-related matters couldn't be put aside, at least momentarily, to address this?

Brown has been suspended, as he should be. But indefinitely? Is the NFL going to try and turn this into Latrell Sprewell? I hope not, because it isn't. I doubt even Brown would raise his hand to object to being suspended the rest of this season (one bye-week, one game in which he couldn't play anyway) plus perhaps the first two games of next season. I don't condone what he did, but as comedian Chris Rock says, "I sure do understand."

Tagliabue, in a statement yesterday, said, "We continue to hope Orlando Brown makes a full recovery from his injury. However, as everyone has acknowledged, the injury to the player was completely inadvertent and did not justify his action against the referee."

Given Tagliabue's customary sensitivity to serious issues, I expected something more sympathetic than "the injury." The injury isn't a pulled hamstring or a sprained knee. From all we've heard, Orlando Brown's eye was damaged by Triplette's errant toss. Losing sight in that eye doesn't appear to be out of the question. Will the league still refer to it as "the injury" if Brown's career ends because he can't see out of that eye anymore?

Also, why I haven't heard anybody publicly reprimand the referee? Plenty of Monday mornings after reviewing videotape, the league issues a statement to a coach or team that says, "Sorry, our guys blew it. They got it wrong. We know it cost you a game with that incorrect call; we goofed." The league can point out a referee's blown call within 24 hours, but not an error that lands a 350-pound man in a hospital for three days? What's more important to the NFL, a game or one of its player's eyesight?

Was Triplette's toss "inadvertent," as Tagliabue said? Of course it was. Nobody is arguing that, not even Brown. Triplette probably couldn't repeat that action if he tried 100 times. We're not questioning Triplette's competence or intentions. But just because something is accidental doesn't mean you get off without a reprimand or punishment.

If a player drops a pass or misses a block accidentally, he still may get chewed out by a coach on the sideline. If you "inadvertently" let your car slip out of park into neutral and it rolls downhill into your neighbor's car, you think your neighbor is going to say, "Aaawww, it was inadvertent, don't worry about it." No, you're going to pay up. Inadvertent actions get people suspended, sometimes fired. Sometimes injured or killed. Inadvertent actions, when they cause other folks harm, have to be addressed.

"Inadvertent" doesn't mean much when you throw a rock into somebody's eye. That's what a yellow penalty flag is, yellow cloth weighted by what amounts to a three-ounce rock. Triplette probably ought to be suspended for one game and be reminded loudly that those flags are not meant to be thrown like darts. They go down to the ground, or up. They're not to be fired like a Pedro Martinez fastball. It doesn't mean Triplette is a bad official, but he and other NFL officials have to learn that particular mistake can't happen again. It's not like missing a holding call.

I don't want to hear from the law-and-order fanatics. As Thomas Boswell wrote in The Post yesterday, sometimes common sense should take over. Sometimes, there are extenuating circumstances. This is an easy one. In a game where men who play Brown's position are paid to be violent, the prevailing code is "an eye for an eye." Brown could have punched Triplette's face in, but didn't. He couldn't have stomped him silly before any other players intervened. What he did, out of frustration as his vision disappeared and his eye blew up, was shove the guy who caused it. Anybody who says categorically he wouldn't have done something similar is somebody I would view suspiciously.

You want Brown to spend several weeks in more anger management seminars? Fine, great suggestion. By the way, Mr. Brown, if your family has a history of eye problems and you are predisposed to them also, wear glasses all the time and one of those helmet shields like Jim McMahon used to wear. Protect yourself at all times.

Hopefully, by the time Tagliabue and the league get around to dealing with this, Brown will have regained full vision, Triplette will be off the hook and league officials will have dramatically improved their bedside manners.