CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The Broncos delivered punishment Thursday and absorbed criticism Friday, accused of dirty play in their season-opening 21-20 victory over Carolina.
Denver hit Panthers quarterback Cam Newton 17 times -- second-most in his career -- including four vicious high tackles. Referees flagged safety Darian Stewart for unnecessary roughness on Carolina's final drive. However, linebacker Brandon Marshall avoided an infraction for a helmet strike on Newton that is expected to result in a fine and which the league said should have been penalized.
"I don’t care. The game is over. We are out there playing football. It’s the refs' job to call it. Not us," said safety T.J. Ward when asked about accusations the defense targeted Newton. "I don’t care who it is. If you run the ball you have to deal with the consequences."
As much as the teams downplayed the Super Bowl rematch as a fresh start in a new season, bad blood simmered. When Newton began jawing in the second quarter, it doused kerosene on flickering flames, multiple Broncos admitted.
"We were playing hard," Kubiak said.
Newton, who has passed four concussion tests since the game ended, according to reports, didn't criticize the officials or the Broncos. Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Friday Denver should have been penalized more for hits on his quarterback, and advocated for those plays to be reviewed in the future. Newton's teammates are growing tired of the reigning NFL MVP not receiving the same type of treatment afforded Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.
"It's nothing new. They didn't do anything different that hasn't happened all along," linebacker Thomas Davis said of the hits on Newton. "It's just something the league is going to have to police. And they are going to have to do a better job and start treating him like the quarterback he is."
The Broncos became more aggressive in the second half. After failing to stop Carolina on seven third-downs, the Broncos thwarted them on six of eight after halftime. Pressure and improved tackling were the difference. Denver posted three sacks and lived in Newton's grill. They crossed the line, according to critics. Stewart heard the complaints but made no apologies.
"I have been getting a lot of hell for that hit. I am not going to stop being aggressive. I never try to take out a player. In my case, I wasn’t sure if he was running it or throwing it. I am always thinking they are running with a player like that," said Stewart, who expects to be fined because his helmet struck Newton's helmet. "We are not going to stop being aggressive. Nah man, that’s their opinion [that the Broncos are dirty]. We have a job to do."
The Broncos' Derek Wolfe, echoing multiple teammates' claims, accused the Panthers of targeting defensive linemen in an exclusive interview with Denver7. He believes guard Trai Turner should be fined. The Panthers' offensive linemen drew three penalties for a facemask, taunting and unnecessary roughness.
"I think it was a very physical football game," said Kubiak on whether the Panthers targeted his players, "and we both know it was going to be that way."
Kubiak in a candid admission about a season-opener that included three turnovers inside the opponent's 30-yard line and multiple 12-men-on-the-field penalties: "I couldn't believe we won the game with some of the mistakes that we made." ... Trevor Siemian put the Broncos in position to score on six of nine possessions, assessed Kubiak. ... The Broncos expect Ty Sambrailo to be available for the second game. He is slotted as a backup tackle and guard. ... Devontae Booker had a forgettable debut. He lost a fumble on his first carry and struggled in pass protection. "He struggled, let's face it. But we have to throw him back out there next week because he can help us," Kubiak said. ... Emmanuel Sanders has a thing for cars. He has gone from a Lamborghini to a Ferrari. What's next now that he has a contract with $27 million guaranteed? "Maybe a unicorn." Asked if he won by betting on himself, his philosophy each season, "My bank account says so."