Perhaps the Broncos weren’t trying to target Cam Newton’s head.
But they absolutely wanted to hit him, and made no apologies for that after it worked.
While the Panthers quarterback took a number of helmet-to-helmet shots in the second half of last night’s loss to the Broncos, one of the guys who got him didn’t think his play was dirty.
“I thought I [led] with the shoulder,” Broncos safety Darian Stewart told Tom Pelissero of USA Today. “But he’d been running the whole game, so I was unsure if he was a passer or if he was going to run. I just took the shot, man.”
Newton’s ability to run often puts him in a gray area for officials and puts him in jeopardy. But a number of the shots he took last night were in the pocket, and will likely result in fines.
But Stewart said he’d appeal any fine he received — and honestly, since it worked, it’s hard to argue fines are a deterrent for headshots anyway.
While Newton took the high road last night, his teammates were clearly bothered by the lack of protection he got from officials.
“I try to warn the refs every time I do get hit in the head. But if the flag is not called, then it’s OK,” Newton said.
And the Broncos made it equally clear that they wanted to hit him as often as possible, because not playing against the Most Valuable Player in the league generally increases your chances of winning ball games.
“We wanted to make sure it got to him, so every time he ran, we tried to put a helmet or shoulder pads on him,” Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. “If he’s not going to slide, then we’re really going to put something on you. We’ve seen him limp throughout the game. So, that run stuff — you can’t do that all game with your quarterback.”
Newton was still able to move his team into position for a potential game-winning field goal, before Graham Gano missed his second attempt from 50 yards (after Broncos coach Gary Kubiak called a timeout just before he hit one, providing evidence that icing kickers can work too).
But he clearly wasn’t the same player in the second half, the result of a collection of hits both clean and dubious.
“I could in the second half, yeah,” Stewart said. “With two minutes left, man, and that rush get on him, you could tell then. I think that’s our moment.”
Stewart’s hit was the only one that was penalized, and also the last one and the most violent. It was also nullified by an intentional grounding penalty, as if Newton’s act of self-defense was the equivalent of taking a helmet to the jaw.
And as long as the result is positive for players and teams, it’s hard to imagine any expectation the behavior will change.