Titans coach Jeff Fisher says his team doesn't play dirty, they just play hard.
Maybe. But they push the envelope enough to rack up lots of flags.
Tennessee leads the NFL in penalties and with nine personal fouls — all on defense. That doesn't even count defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil's $40,000 obscene gesture.
The New York Giants were flagged for five personal fouls responding to the aggressive Titans, whom TV announcers described as "chippy."
Tennessee sacked Kyle Orton six times, and the Denver quarterback called them "cheap" after a 26-20 win by the Broncos. He singled out Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels agreed after watching the film, saying there's a way to play tough and physical without being excessive and "playing dirty after the snap."
"I think there's a lot of teams in this league that play like that, that are tough and physical but also within the rules. ... You could put any tape on that you want to of Tennessee, and there's going to be 10 penalties. You either coach it or allow it to happen," McDaniels said.
Fisher has been defending his Titans the past few days. He called the accusations that his Titans play dirty "incorrect" Wednesday.
"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," Fisher said. "It's just kind of one of those things that happened and we're done with it. We're going to play hard and if someone doesn't like the way we play, then so be it."
The Titans' nine personal fouls are three more than the closest team, St. Louis (6), according to STATS LLC. Tennessee also is tied for the league-lead with 37 penalties and alone atop the NFL with 344 yards in penalties.
Tennessee also is tied for the league lead with 16 sacks and have the stingiest defense inside the Titans 20.
As proof that the Titans teach their players to push NFL rules, critics note Fisher played for and coached with Buddy Ryan, as well as Cecil's history as a hard-hitting safety who was fined repeatedly.
Fisher said he isn't concerned with what people say, and Cecil laughed Wednesday at the thought.
"Wow. I think that would be a stretch that the reason that my team's getting called dirty is because of the hits that I made when I was playing however long ago. I think it's kind of silly," Cecil said.
There are those who agree with Fisher.
"They're not any dirtier than any other team," Ward said. "They play all the way to the whistle, and stuff like that. If they do play beyond the whistle, they get fined for it and we go accordingly. But I can't recall them going out of their way to hurt somebody or stuff like that."
Fisher was defensive backs coach in Philadelphia between 1986-88 when Phillips was the Eagles' defensive coordinator. Phillips doesn't see the Titans as cheap.
"I disagree with whatever Denver said from watching the film. 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," Phillips said.
How the Titans run to the ball jumps out on film to Dallas tight end Jason Witten. He doesn't know how someone could see that as being cheap.
"They just play hard, and so you have to match that intensity," Witten said.
The Tennessean newspaper has tracked the fines racked up by the Titans, a number that had reached $47,500 before playing Denver. The Titans finished that game with a season-high 111 yards in penalties, which included 49 yards on a pass interference call and 15 yards for tackle Sen'Derrick Marks taking down Orton. Replays showed Marks hitting Orton around the thighs.
Both Fisher and Cecil said officials are erring on the side of safety in protecting quarterbacks.
"We're not doing anything intentionally illegal anyway so there's nothing for us to worry about getting called for," Cecil said. "We're going to play hard. That's what we do."
Titans end Dave Ball, who has a team-high 4½ sacks, said Orton was complaining to officials throughout the game.
"We're not trying to hurt anybody ... by doing cheap stuff. We're trying to hurt them by doing legal stuff, by hitting them with our shoulder pads," Ball said.
If opponents worry about the Titans, safety Chris Hope said so be it. That won't change how the Titans play, though they do want to eliminate the offsides calls and neutral zone infractions from trying to get the jump off the snap of the ball.
"While the play is going on, we're going to play 100 mph and full speed," Hope said.
Notes: Marks (right knee) did not practice along with starting LG Leroy Harris (ankle), WR Justin Gage (left hamstring) or DT Tony Brown (right knee). But DE Jacob Ford (right ankle) did practice for the first time since getting hurt Sept. 19.
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham in Englewood, Colo., Jaime Aron in Irving, Texas, and Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.