ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Still feeling disrespected despite bringing home the Lombardi Trophy, members of Denver's nasty defense pledged to keep serving as the Broncos' vicious vanguard in 2016.
They certainly delivered in the opener.
Only, instead of championship rings, their latest clubbing of Cam Newton will surely come with some hefty fines.
Newton was repeatedly hit in the head in Denver's 21-20 win over Carolina in Thursday night's beguiling but brutal NFL kickoff that left fans cringing along with the league's reigning MVP.
The biggest hit on Newton was delivered by safety Darian Stewart on Carolina's final possession, leaving the QB motionless on the ground for several seconds. But his roughing flag was negated by Newton's intentional grounding infraction a split second before he was hit. Newton stayed in and led the Panthers into field goal range, although Graham Gano missed a 50-yard attempt that would have given Carolina the lead with 4 seconds remaining.
Stewart said after the game he felt like he led with his shoulder, not his head.
There were a couple of helmet-to-helmet hits on Newton by last year's Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and Brandon Marshall that went un-flagged by Gene Stetatore's crew, prompting Newton to declare, ''I don't like getting hit in the head,'' but he added he didn't think the Broncos were head-hunting.
Asked if he thought he'd be penalized for his big hit, either through a fine or a suspension, Stewart said, ''I hope not. I'm definitely going to appeal. I didn't think it was that type of play. I didn't think I hit him in the head. I'm just glad it was offsetting penalties.''
Newton was hit while throwing or rushing 17 times Thursday night, the second-worst beating he's ever taken and the only one where he was hit more came in an overtime game.
''We've got to treat Cam like a quarterback,'' Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. ''I know he's the biggest guy on the field, but he's still a quarterback.''
Except when he's not, said Marshall.
Newton's running ability puts him in harm's way a lot more often than a pure drop-back passer.
''The guy is a big ... tight end, defensive end playing quarterback. What are we supposed to do?'' said Marshall. ''When he's running the ball - they've got quarterback-designed runs, quarterback keeps, quarterback powers, draws, everything - we're going to treat him like a running back.''
The Broncos walloped several of the game's elite QBs on the way to their title last season, holding Aaron Rodgers to the worst performance of his career and putting the hurt on Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Newton in the playoffs.
Kubiak said leading up to the game that he wanted his players to play with emotion.
''I think we have the most fun when we're just being ourselves and that's what coach lets us do on game day, and it's our responsibility to stay within the rules and the boundaries,'' safety T.J. Ward said earlier this week. ''And sometimes we cross them but that's part of the game. If you want a team of personalities attacking, sometimes you've got to take the good with the bad.''
Marshall said he knows he could get fined next week by the NFL.
''On my hit, he starts scrambling and there's a big open field,'' Marshall said. ''Yeah, I have Jonathan Stewart on me, but I'm like, `Cam's running the ball.'"
''Hit him!'' hollered Shane Ray in the locker next to Marshall's.
''Yeah, exactly, as Shane said, you have to hit him,'' Marshall continued. ''And it's tough, man. I think I heard Ray Lewis say you have guys of all sizes and they're falling to the ground, if Cam's moving, you never know, these angles, it's hard to tell these angles. And then sometimes you're going to hit him in the head. I mean, it is what it is, but I think he should be treated more like a running back most of the time because he runs the ball a lot.''
And Newton, at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, is a super-sized running back much of the time, ducking his head just like any other running back slicing his way through the line.
''Hey man, look, I tackled him three times yesterday and I realized how heavy he was,'' Marshall said. ''I'm like, this is a heavy dude. So, everybody, these safeties, they're going to launch at him because they know they've got to get him down.''
Ward said that every time Newton left the pocket and was a runner, ''we tried to put helmet and shoulder pads on him. If you're not going to slide we're going to put something on you. We saw him limping throughout the game so that running stuff, you can't do that all game.''
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