ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Nasty, hard-hitting, wicked. Sure. But dirty? No way, say the Denver Broncos.
“I just don’t think that’s what we are,” linebacker Todd Davis said. “We’re not malicious. We don’t intentionally go to hurt anybody. We just play hard. We play physical.”
About all those helmet-to-helmet hits on Cam Newton, then …
“Just because we hit Cam in the head a couple of times, that doesn’t make us dirty,” insisted linebacker Brandon Marshall, who had one of four helmet-to-helmet hits on Carolina’s big quarterback in the Broncos’ 21-20 win over the Panthers on Thursday night.
The brutality of the game sparked debates over league safety, sideline concussion protocol, the ability of the NFL MVP to survive, much less continue to thrive, as a read-option QB and yes, whether Denver’s devastating defense crossed the line from dominant to dirty.
Although none of the helmet hits on Newton resulted in penalty yardage and none got him checked for a concussion, Marshall said he’s expecting a FedEx letter in his locker Wednesday informing him of a hefty fine.
Safety Darian Stewart, whose helmet-to-helmet hit left Newton motionless on the ground in the game’s final minute, is bracing for such a letter, too. His hit drew a flag but it was negated by intentional grounding.
The other helmet-to-helmet hits came from Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and cornerback Bradley Roby, who was fined $24,309 for his illegal hit on Rams receiver Duke Williams in an Aug. 27 exhibition game — a sizable forfeiture given that NFL veterans make $1,900 a week in the preseason.
Marshall said what he considers a dirty play is “stepping on somebody’s ankle at the bottom of a pile, twisting somebody around, something like that. We just play hard. We hit hard. We play fast. … It’s the speed of the game. We’re a malicious group, but we’re not dirty.”
Marshall said the word dirty should only be used when a team deliberately breaks the rules.
“Yeah, dirty is intentional,” Marshall said. “One time I was in college man and I made a tackle and I saw a player from Utah State run around the pile. I’m on the ground still. He ran around the pile, he grabbed my ankle, stepped on it and twisted it. That’s dirty. We don’t do stuff like that.”
Marshall said he meant to hit Newton hard but not in the head, and Stewart said he thought he led with his shoulder on his big hit.
If fined, Stewart said, “I’m definitely going to appeal. I didn’t think it was that type of play.”
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak also dismissed the notion of his defense being dirty, saying, “We play hard. We’re going to continue to play hard.”
Kubiak called Newton the league’s best player and said when he leaves the pocket, “you better tackle him like a (running) back.”
Marshall said other teams will be hitting Newton the same way, too, because he’s like a defensive end barreling down on defenders and the only way for a smaller safety or linebacker to bring him down is to go high or low.
Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe said the league should be looking at the Panthers O-linemen for their dirty play. He told Bleacher Report the Panthers were “cutting out legs, grabbing the facemask, grabbing our pads, tackling our legs … they just let these offensive linemen get away with murder.”
Wolfe said Miller was in a full Nelson wrestling hold on one play and Carolina wasn’t whistled for holding.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said nobody should have been surprised that the Broncos clobbered Newton they way they did.
“We’re getting called dirty? Did they not watch the 2015 Broncos? They act like they’ve never seen us play,” Harris said. “That’s how we won the Super Bowl .”
The Broncos crossed the line aplenty last season, when they were the league’s most heavily fined team, and “we’ll be fined again,” Harris said.
He wondered whether the Panthers guards would also face fines for their actions Thursday night. Trai Turner drew a 15-yard taunting penalty for getting in the cornerback’s face after Harris surrendered Kevin Benjamin’s TD in the first half. And Andrew Norwell drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness flag for jumping on Harris after his fourth-quarter interception.
“So, can you not say they were targeting me?” Harris asked. “I could have broken my ribs with a 300-pound guy jumping on top of me. They were targeting me. Come on, man.”
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton