The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicki Jhab­vala

For 26 days, the Bron­cos have been stew­ing. Late in the first quar­ter of their last meet­ing with the Steel­ers, in Pitts­burgh on Dec. 20, safety David Bru­ton was bull­dozed by a late hel­met- to- hel­met hit from Steel­ers cen­ter Cody Wal­lace. “That’s just what they do,” Bru­ton said after­ward. “They’re dirty, and he left his feet try­ing to take me out. So, I just know if we have to play them again, it’s not go­ing to go well. We’re def­i­nitely go­ing to make sure that he’s go­ing to feel it.”

The hit cost Wal­lace a 15- yard penalty and a $ 23,152 fine, pun­ish­ment the Bron­cos say failed to match the crime.

Sun­day, in an AFC divi­sional play­off game at Sports Au­thor­ity Field at Mile High, the Bron­cos have a chance to avenge their 34- 27 loss at Pitts­burgh and re­deem them­selves for last year’s divi­sional play­off loss to In­di­anapo­lis that still stings.

They also have a chance at Wal­lace.

“That was a lapse of judg­ment on his part,” Steel­ers quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger said. “That’s not who he is, and he knows it. He felt hor­ri­ble about it. We’ve moved on from that, and I know that ( the Bron­cos) haven’t— prob­a­bly de­servedly so.”

The stan­dard for dirty still re­sides in Oak­land. The Raiders of the 1970s and 1980s car­ried a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing un­scrupu­lous, earn­ing nick­names such as “The Eleven An­gry Men.” They were ruth­less, to the point the NFL in­stalled rules to tame their bru­tal­ity such as the Lyle Alzado Rule: Hel­mets can­not be used as weapons. The Raiders’ games of­ten were re­mem­bered more for their vic­tims than their vic­to­ries.

From 1967- 85, un­der owner Al Davis, the Raiders cap­tured 13 divi­sion ti­tles, one Amer­i­can Foot­ball League ti­tle and three Su­per Bowls. The Raiders of old have faded, but some teams have drawn com­par­isons with their cheap- shots de­vo­tion to bru­tal­ity.

Af­ter last Satur­day night, with a se­ries of events that might for­ever be known as “The Melt­down,” the Cincin­nati Ben­gals might have claimed the throne for be­ing dirty. But three weeks ago the Steel­ers were con­tenders— at least in the eyes of some Den­ver play­ers.

“He should have been sus­pended,” cor­ner back AqibTalib said of Wal­lace. Talib was sus­pended one game this the sea­son for pok­ing In­di­anapo­lis’ Dwayne Allen in the eye.

“If I put a guy’s life in dan­ger by do­ing ( ges­tures a poke) and it cost me $ 350,000, then that def­i­nitely puts some­body’s life in dan­ger. I don’t know how that goes, though. I don’t know what de­ter­mines who gets sus­pended for a game and who doesn’t, but I saw it live and it was def­i­nitely a dirty play. It­was un­sports­man­like and got 15 yards. That’s a slap on the wrist.”

Dan­ger­ous has also been used to de­scribe the hit by Pitts­burgh safety Mike Mitchell that con­cussed Ben­gals tight end Tyler Eifert on Dec. 13. It also has been used to de­scribe Mitchell’s hit on San Diego’s An­to­nio Gates on Oct. 12. The two cost Mitchell a to­tal of $ 31,833 in fines.

But not all NFL penal­ties war­rant fines and not all fines stem from ingame flags. And the Steel­ers are nei­ther the most- fined team ( Seat­tle and Cincin­nati rank No. 1 and 2, re­spec­tively) nor the most- pe­nal­ized ( Bal­ti­more’s 15 un­nec­es­sary rough­ness penal­ties led the league). In the reg­u­lar sea­son, Pitts­burgh racked up $ 81,028 in fines for per­sonal fouls, ac­cord­ing to Spo­trac, and was flagged 10 times for un­nec­es­sary rough­ness, tied for the fifth- most, with Den­ver and Carolina. So, are the Steel­ers dirty? Or has that one hit by Wal­lace sim­ply been costly and mem­o­rable?

“I don’t think they’re one of the nas­ti­est,” Bron­cos de­fen­sive end Malik Jack­son said. “I’d say they’re con­niv­ing. They def­i­nitely know what they’re do­ing. You just have to go out there and have your own bag of tricks to counter their tricks.”

Steel­ers wide re­ceiver Mar­tavis Bryant roughed up Bron­cos cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris when their teams met for the first time this sea­son, Dec. 20 in Pitts­burgh. The re­match comes Sun­day, a play­off game in Den­ver with a berth in the AFC cham­pi­onship game at stake. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

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