ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Julius Thomas said Monday that he never intended to hurt Calais Campbell despite Arizona coach Bruce Arians calling the Pro Bowl tight end’s chop block the ”dirtiest play I’ve ever seen” in 37 years in the NFL.
Thomas said he and tackle Ryan Clady would never try to hurt anyone and the play Sunday that sent Arizona’s star defensive end out with a sprained right MCL was a matter of miscommunication, not malice.
Broncos coach John Fox passionately defended Thomas, too. He said he’s been in the league just two years less than Arians and ”it’s not the dirtiest play I’ve seen this year, let alone in 35 years.”
Fox said that no matter how bad it looks, Thomas meant only to legally cut block Campbell, which would have been OK had Clady not gotten into his pass protection stance just as Thomas went low and took out Campbell’s knees.
”There wasn’t anything dirty about a player. There wasn’t anything dirty about coaching. It’s just something that happened where they screwed up and it cost us a 77-yard touchdown,” Fox said.
Campbell is expected to miss one to three weeks.
Arians didn’t back off Monday, saying, ”You’ll never convince me it wasn’t premeditated.”
”His opinion is his and he’s entitled to that,” Thomas responded. ”But as far as I’m concerned, I just want to make it clear that there was no intent to hurt anybody on that play.”
”I respect what everybody does in order to play this game and how much hard work goes into it and I would never want to take away somebody’s ability to go out there and play football,” Thomas said. ”Unfortunately, it’s tough, but he came up injured on the play. That was definitely not the goal or the intention.”
The chop block wiped out a 77-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas. Otherwise, Thomas, who finished with a franchise record 226 yards on eight catches, would have posted just the sixth 300-yard receiving game in NFL history.
And Manning, who threw for a career-high 479 yards, would have had 556.
Once Campbell went out, the Broncos (3-1) were able to run the ball and turned a tight game into a 41-20 wipeout that knocked the Cardinals (3-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Thomas leads the league with seven TD catches, including the 500th of Manning’s career, which he caught in the first quarter Sunday. But he’s only played football for four years, taking up the sport after leading Portland State to a pair of NCAA basketball tournament berths as a power forward.
His blocking has never been his strong point.
It was an odd set of circumstances that brought this trio, each of whom has a reputation as being among the classiest players in the league, into the spotlight together.
The Broncos were in a two-tight end set without any running backs when the Cardinals lined up in a three-man front, something they hadn’t shown all game and for which the Broncos hadn’t prepared. So, Manning audibled and brought Thomas up toward the line of scrimmage.
That’s where things went wrong.
Instead of chipping him high and going out on his route, Thomas went for the cut block, diving at Campbell’s knees. Recognizing this, Clady tried to back away but it was too late; Campbell was preparing to engage with Clady and couldn’t protect himself.
It was the first cut block whistled on the Broncos since 2010, the year before Fox’s arrival in Denver.
”Cut blocking’s allowed in the National Football League,” Fox said. ”It’s utilized by everybody in the league. But you cannot have the tackle engaged and cut block at the same time. All right? It’s called a chop block. But that in no way was intentional. It’s never been coached by me or anybody on my staff or any player we have on our football team in four years.”
NFL spokesman Michael Signora said a decision on a possible fine for Thomas would be made later in the week.
Arians suggested a suspension was in order.
”I don’t spend much time worrying about what others think of me or what should happen,” Thomas said. ”You can spend all day with all the opinions from any play of any game of what others think. So, I’m just not going to make too much attention to what he feels should happen. Like I said, the main thing is that there was no intention for anybody to be hurt on the play. And hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
Notes: RB Montee Ball said his MRI on Monday showed his strained right groin wasn’t a season-ending injury as first feared.
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AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Tempe, Arizona, contributed.