There is a fine line between physical and dangerous play. It is a line the Denver Broncos defense crossed early and often on Thursday night with its attack on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Heading into the Super Bowl 50 rematch the Broncos knew that getting to Newton and disrupting his level of play would be vital to their chances of beating the Panthers for the second straight game.
What followed was a clinic on how to hit the quarterback in (or near) the head time after time and somehow get away with it.
There are those that believe Newton doesn't get the right level of protection from the officials because of his brash nature and young age. While I don't buy into that theory, I do think the sheer size of Newton plays into the way Panthers games are called.
The Broncos had at least four helmet-to-helmet hits on Newton and only one was called. Even that hit ended up being offset by a grounding penalty, a grounding penalty caused by Newton throwing on the run to avoid a blitzing safety that was about to launch towards his head.
The big issue here isn't so much the Broncos gameplan, even though that plan was clearly ranging between borderline illegal and completely illegal.
It is that these hits, especially the last one that left Newton facedown on the field, are the exact type of hits that the NFL has promised to outlaw over the last couple of seasons.
If the Broncos were a college team there is a good chance they could have had four players ejected over the course of the game for targeting. A player's head does not suddenly get stronger after graduating to the NFL, so how are teams still getting away with these hits?
The fact that Newton was even still in the game at the end given the NFL allegedly now cares abut brain trauma and CTE is mind blowing. The excuses from the league, and the Panthers coaching staff, have been vague and not particularly satisfying.
The NFL will certainly be looking to punish hits like this as the season continues.