Last Sunday's Broncos-Titans game is long gone, but the war of words raged on even into Wednesday.
Tennessee players got their first chance to respond to Denver coach Josh McDaniels and Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton's comments and didn't mince words.
When asked about Orton's comments that he was a “cheap player, not a good player,” Cortland Finnegan reacted this way: “Why are you asking me that when we're on the Dallas Cowboys? I don't care about what that dude says. That dude don't pay my bills, so I could care less what that dude says. He's a quarterback. If he wants to show up in Nashville and see me, that's cool, too. But I doubt it.”
Finnegan had told TitanInsider.com earlier this year that he aspired to be atop Sports Illustrated's list of dirtiest players, and later that he felt he was becoming a target of game officials. Finnegan has two of the Titans' defense's six personal fouls this season.
McDaniels said after the game that the Titans have a reputation such play, and laid the blame on Coach Jeff Fisher.
"You can put any tape you want to of Tennessee and there's going to be 10 penalties. You either coach it or you allow it to happen. That's how I look at that,” McDaniels said Sunday.
Defensive end Dave Ball, who leads the Titans with 4.5 sacks, took exception to comments from McDaniels and Orton as well and defended the Titans' defense's play.
“I guess Josh got his feelings hurt after the game. But they won the game, but he's acting like he has major problems with us,” Ball said. “His quarterback was kind of a whiner, too. He was a massive complainer. I mean every time we'd get near him he was jawing up the officials.”
Orton, who was 35 of 50 for 341 yards, was sacked six times in the game by the Titans, despite coming out on the winning end, 26-20. "You always hear about how tough they are and all that stuff. I don't think they're tough. I think they're cheap," Orton said after the game.
Nickelback Vincent Fuller disputed that notion.
“You see how we play when we put on the film. We play a tough, hard-nosed, physical brand of football, and some guys aren't used to that, and they're gonna say we're cheap or we're dirty,” he said. “We go out there and we try to win. We play a physical brand of football, and you're gonna know you've played the Titans defense when you get off the field with us.”
Ball said the Titans like to think of themselves as an old-school aggressive type of football team, and apparently that rubs some the wrong way.
“Dirty? No, we're not dirty. We're extremely aggressive, and I think we play football like they did before they started over-penalizing everybody. Back in the day, they used to play football,” he said. “We're not trying to hurt anybody by doing cheap stuff. We're trying to hurt 'em by doing legal stuff.”
On Sunday, Sen'Derrick Marks was hit with a roughing the passer call against Orton on what looked like a legal hit above the knees. Ball was asked how old-time players like Dick Butkus or Deacon Jones would have fared in today's NFL with all the protecting the quarterback.
“They would have to get a second job to pay for all the tremendous amount of fines. If you used today's standards for back then, all those players were dirty players. Look at Night Train Lane,” Ball said. “That guy tackled people by the neck all the time. Playing safe is one thing, but throwing penalties just because a guy was close.”
Fisher was questioned by the media about the Titans' style of play, and he defended the way his team plays. But he eventually grew tired of that line of questioning at his Wednesday press conference.
“If you’re making reference to the accusations of us playing dirty, they are incorrect,” Fisher said. “We play hard, we play aggressive; you don’t hear comments out of teams that are familiar with us along those lines from the Texans or anybody else in the division. We’re going to play hard and if someone doesn’t like the way we play, then so be it.”
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, this week's opposing coach, said he took no issue with Fisher's style.
“I don’t see them as cheap at all. I think they play hard. I disagree with whatever Denver said from watching the film,” Phillips said. “I coached with Jeff Fisher and I know how he coaches and what kind of guy he is. I know what he is telling his players. I see a really hard working team that gets after you on defense, but that is what defense is all about. I don’t see any of that.”