The Denver Broncos were horrible in 2022, and fans and media alike had no issues kicking them while they were down. Now that the team has a record above .500 again, there are obviously folks trying to pull them down so they can't get a view from the top, and the Broncos have officially gone from being the NFL's most made-fun-of team to one of its most picked on.
There are a lot of folks calling the Denver Broncos "dirty" after a game against the Cleveland Browns in which Amari Cooper left with a chest injury, Dorian Thompson-Robinson left with blood on his face and apparently in concussion protocol, and Myles Garrett left the stadium with his arm in a sling. Not to mention, Za'Darius Smith went down during the game as well.
But the Broncos are coming under fire as a dirty team for more than just this game against the Browns. Evidence has piled up for certain pundits and self-appointed Twitter experts out there who are drawing on Sean Payton's "Bountygate" scandal with the Saints as proof that the Broncos are somehow a "dirty" team.
A lot of this stems from some hits that have been delivered this season by safety Kareem Jackson:
Now, whether or not every single one of these hits is "dirty" is subjective. Some of these are great hits, some are undoubtedly unnecessary roughness. Does this collection of hits make Kareem Jackson a dirty player? Absolutely not. Does Kareem Jackson being on the Denver Broncos' roster make this a dirty team?
It's hilarious the conversation has even gotten to this point.
Pass rusher Baron Browning was flagged for roughing the passer on this outstanding hit he put on Dorian Thompson-Robinson to force a fourth down against Cleveland:
PJ Locke was called for a personal foul when he went after a Browns player like a missile, which helped set up their only touchdown of the day, but he wasn't called for the hit he put on Amari Cooper that knocked Cooper out of the game.
The notion that the Denver Broncos are a dirty team is a complete joke at this point. The fact that the NFL has gotten to this point where good hits are being debated and contested on Twitter as "dirty" plays by certain players is atrocious. Vontaze Burfict was a dirty player. At times in his career, you could argue that Ndamukong Suh was a dirty player. The Denver Broncos don't have any dirty players.
What they have right now is a group of players defensively that is trying to figure out how the league wants them to play the game. And they are having to do that with fines and suspensions rolling in. They are having to try to guess whether or not they're making a big, game-altering play or whether they're going to get called for a back-breaking 15-yard foul.
The NFL's lack of consistency with making these calls has been the most frustrating aspect of everything. Justin Simmons put a hit on Cleveland Browns running back Jerome Ford in this game that was a carbon copy of what we saw Kareem Jackson do to Joshua Dobbs when the Broncos beat the Vikings. Was it only dirty because Kareem Jackson did it? Did Jackson get suspended because he put a hard hit on a quarterback instead of a running back?
Nobody is arguing against player safety. Everyone wants that. But the reality is, football is a violent game. This isn't the XFL where anything goes, but it's also just the way the game is played and the very nature of it. This isn't basketball. This isn't baseball. Guys are going to get hit, and they're liable to get hit by a 250-pound dude running 20 miles per hour. That's the game they've chosen to play. That's how it is.
And if you can't hit guys hard without getting penalized or being labeled as dirty, then you can't gain an advantage defensively in today's game. The Super Bowl 50 Broncos would have been out of the playoff picture by midseason if it weren't for the way they smacked quarterbacks around all year.
Again, nobody is arguing against player safety, but at some point, you have to protect the integrity of the game. There can't be such a heightened emphasis on calling penalties when it comes to players getting hurt when they get hit. That's football. And playing football doesn't make you a dirty team. It doesn't mean your coach has a bounty on other players. And thankfully against the Cleveland Browns (or any of the last 5 opponents), playing football hasn't cost the Broncos an opportunity to win games.