ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos are the NFL's new bad boys.
Or maybe they're just victims of circumstance and perception.
They've racked up $134,000 in fines already for crossing the line on both tackles and talk, and they've watched three of their players get served with suspension letters from the league office.
Linebacker Joe Mays is appealing his $50,000 fine and one-game suspension for his vicious hit last weekend that sent Matt Schaub's helmet and a chunk of his left ear flying.
If the NFL upholds his punishment, the Broncos will have to face the Oakland Raiders, the league's longtime renegades, without Mays, who's known as one of the game's hardest hitters and is also considered one of the nicest men in pro football.
"Joe Mays is not a dirty player. He was not intentionally trying to hurt anybody," coach John Fox told The Associated Press on Wednesday, choosing his words carefully so as not to incur the wrath of the commissioner's office again.
"He was playing football, and in football sometimes there's a fine line in putting the hurt on somebody and trying to hurt them."
The Broncos (1-2) are already thin at linebacker with Nate Irving (concussion) hurt and D.J. Williams serving a six-game suspension for violating the league's banned-substances policy, the same infraction that sidelined tight end Virgil Green for the first four games.
Mays was docked $7,875 after Week 2 because of his unpenalized hit on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan after he slid to declare himself down.
The latest Mays penalty came a day after the NFL levied a $30,000 fine against Fox and a $25,000 fine against defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio for verbal abuse of the replacement officials during the Atlanta game.
"That's life, man," said safety Rahim Moore, who was fined $21,000 for his illegal hit on defenseless Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the Broncos' opener.
"When the coaches curse, that's not something they intend to do. And we're not just out there hitting guys for fines. I mean, who wants money taken from them? Nobody does.
"So, we just play the game, we're passionate. At the same time, we respect the rules and regulations here at the Denver Broncos. They don't teach us to do things the wrong way. We just try to play hard every snap, that's it."
Moore cringed at the notion that the Broncos are crossing the line willy-nilly.
"When it's all said and done, you want people to be able to get up out of bed the next morning," Moore said. "And unfortunately, we've been fined and had some problems with our team, but we're trying to win. So, we've got to deal with the consequences."
Fox insisted he wasn't worried that the Broncos might be viewed as the NFL's new bad boys.
"I've been doing this a long time. I've been doing it the same way for almost a quarter of a century," Fox said. "I know Joe Mays. I know Jack Del Rio. If people want to create that image they can. But I know differently."
The big, bad Broncos?
"That just makes me laugh," defensive tackle Mitch Unrein said. "Well, of course, we want to be considered a tough team and you try to set a standard of play: we're going to play hard and we're going to hit you hard, but we're not going to try to do anything cheap. That's not the name of the game. Unfortunately, some guys have gotten fined for it, but nothing's intentional."
Mays said after the game that he expected a fine but not a suspension, adding, "it was definitely not my intention to do that. I'm just trying to play fast."