SOME BRONCOS PLAYERS THINK THE STEELERS ARE A DIRTY TEAM.
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