Alex Smith understands Cam Newton's complaints about hits

Cam Newton took some heat from critics when he ripped into game officials two weeks ago after Carolina's 30-20 win over Arizona, saying he didn't feel protected in the pocket.

Kansas City's Alex Smith, another mobile quarterback, says he understands Newton's point.

"He certainly has merit in that argument that I have seen in that they were blows to the head, helmet to helmet," Smith says. "It's hard to say, I don't know that's similar across the league or if he's certainly at a disadvantage being so big. He's such a good runner that all of a sudden he's not getting the calls.

"I probably haven't studied enough on that. In terms of the hits I've seen in the pocket, he very well could have had a flag thrown."

Smith says he wants players and officials to be held accountable.

"Obviously players get held accountable for things that happen on game day. I think guys just want to see that across the board. They want referees included," Smith adds. "Those guys out there, there needs to be some accountability on that. I think everyone wants to be treated the same. If some quarterbacks are getting afforded certain protection, that needs to be across the board, regardless of how big you are, how mobile you are. It needs to get called consistently.

"Obviously nobody is perfect, I'm not saying that. There is going to be some human error, but certainly you want to see it get called consistently."

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THE LONG VIEW: Minnesota Vikings left guard Alex Boone was sidelined last week against Detroit because of a concussion, a first for his eight-year NFL career. He'd only missed four games to injury before, all because of knee trouble. Boone has since passed the post-concussion testing, cleared to take the field for practice on Wednesday.

He has returned with some deeper perspective, as well as better equipment. Boone's wife and oldest child urged him to ditch the helmet he'd been wearing for years, the oldest model left in the league, he estimated.

"They don't want to wheel me around when I'm 35, so I will be trying a new helmet this week and probably from here on out," he says, reflecting on his old helmet like a little kid's security blanket. "I've always loved it, and now I'm going to have to upgrade to one of these new fancy things that I'm not happy about."

Boone predictably found the concussion protocol "annoying," complaining about the time he had to spent sitting in front of a computer answering questions to prove his mental acuity was back to normal. But he recognized the seriousness of the injury.

"This is a brutal game, and sometimes you get hit in the head and things go wrong," Boone said. "I have kids, and the last thing I want is to have them take care of me at 35. It's hard because I want to play and I want to do everything, but at the same time it's serious and I've got to be a dad at the same time."

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COLLEGE HONOR FOR RYAN: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will have his No. 12 Boston College jersey retired on Nov. 19 when the Eagles play UConn. The Falcons are off next week, so Ryan will be free to attend the event.

"I'm looking forward to that," Ryan says. "It will be a fun weekend to get together with my college friends and college teammates as well as family up there. To see so many people who have impacted my life on such a huge scale and really helped me to become both the player and the person that I am."

Ryan led Boston College to 25 wins in 32 starts, including three bowl victories, from 2005-07. He was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in 2007, when he led the Eagles to the ACC's Atlantic Division championship.

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OLD MAN WITH FRESH LEGS: Darren Sproles has become Philadelphia's No. 1 running back at age 33.

The versatile veteran is an excellent punt returner and has been used mostly as a situational player throughout his career with the Chargers, Saints and Eagles. But Sproles has played at least 80 percent of the snaps in the last two games and has 36 offensive touches.

Meanwhile, Ryan Mathews has just eight snaps and 10 touches in those games after starting the season as the featured back.

The Eagles also rotate rookie Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner. Sproles' blocking ability and skills as a receiver give him the nod, despite his age.

"Against Dallas, Darren was obviously the hot hand at the time, and we just kept feeding Darren, keeping him going, and same thing (against the Giants)," coach Doug Pederson says.

Sproles is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, a full yard more than Mathews. He also has 25 catches for 241 yards, including a 73-yard TD.

Mathews twice ran for 1,000 yards and went to one Pro Bowl while in San Diego. He leads the team with five rushing TDs, but also has two fourth-quarter fumbles, including one that led to a 24-23 loss at Detroit.

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SIEMIAN'S SHOULDER: Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian has been dealing with a sprained left A.C. joint since getting flung to the ground by Tampa Bay defensive tackle Clinton McDonald on Oct. 2. The size of the large bump on his left clavicle has become a grotesque barometer as to how many times he's been hit on any given week.

"I'm fine. At this point everybody is dealing with their own little bumps and bruises, but I'm fine and I'll be ready to go Sunday," Siemian says as he prepares to face the Saints this weekend.

Asked what types of hits hurt his shoulder the most, Siemian shows he's not hurting enough to quash his sense of humor: "The hard ones, the really hard ones."

"It's weird, you'll get hit sometimes and you'll feel good, and then sometimes you say to yourself, 'That kind of hurt,' but that's part of the deal."

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TRUE COLORS? Dallas linebacker Sean Lee is going home to Pittsburgh and will face the Steelers for the first time. He says there are likely to be more than 30 family members and friends there.

The former Penn State standout won't pretend that they're all big Cowboys fans, though. The black and gold runs too deep.

"I bet you there's some friends who will have a 50 jersey on and underneath it they'll have a Steelers jersey, Steelers colors, they'll be rubbing on it during the game," says Lee, the leading tackler for the Cowboys. "They won't say it to my face, but behind the scenes it'll be tough for them to root for the Cowboys."

Lee understands, because there wasn't a bigger fan when he was a kid. Terrible Towel. Steelers jacket.

He wasn't alive when the Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s and in 1980, including a pair of wins over the Cowboys. But he still had a Steel Curtain poster and a picture of Jack Lambert on the wall of his bedroom. Most of his favorite players came from the 1990s: linebackers (of course) Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene, defensive back Carnell Lake.

"I was that kid who was bringing the 'Here We Go Steelers' fight song to recess, playing it over and over again back in third grade," says Lee, referring to the 1995 season, when the Cowboys beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl. "It's like here in Dallas. You grow up in Pittsburgh, you've got to be a Steelers fan."

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AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner, Rob Maaddi, Dave Campbell and Arnie Stapleton, and Sports Writers Schuyler Dixon, Charles Odum and Steve Reed contributed.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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