The NFL handed out a one-game suspension and a $50,000 fine on Denver Broncos linebacker Joe Mays on Tuesday for his late hit on Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, and head coach John Fox now has a void to fill.
On a play-action boot during the early minutes of the second half, Mays blitzed up the middle and hammered Schaub just prior to him releasing the ball.
Schaub then appeared to be gripping his head, not because of a headache or possible concussion, but because part of his left ear had been ripped off.
Following the front office punishment, Mays publicly said that he was in the wrong during that play and had no intention to hurt Schaub, but is appealing the suspension in hopes of playing the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
According to head coach John Fox, Mays also apologized twice to Schaub on Sunday.
“What I was thinking is, I’m just reading my progression, my gap blocks, so I’m thinking, try to get to the quarterback as fast as I could, try to get him down before he gets the ball off,” Mays told a Denver radio station. “I see him back there, I’m coming, I’m coming and I see him cock back to release the ball, but I’m still going to try to hit him so I can affect the release a little bit.”
“My intention was to go in there and get a hit on him, not hit him in the helmet. Unfortunately, that’s what happened.”
If his suspension is upheld, the Broncos defense will have a major disadvantage, as two of their starting linebackers will be inactive.
Prior to the start of the season, defensive captain and nine-year veteran D.J. Williams received a six-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Williams also was arrested during the summer on a DUI charge, yet further punishment has still not been issued.
If Mays's suspension is upheld, the Broncos will most likely start 15-year-veteran Keith Brooking, or move Wesley Woodyard from the outside position.
Woodyard leads the team in tackles at 20, and the Broncos have a young star in Von Miller, though the loss of Mays is a blow to the team’s line-backer depth. Nate Irving, who had four tackles in 2011, but has three in 2012, suffered a concussion on Sunday while covering a punt.
The Broncos also have the option of rookies Danny Trevathan and Steven Johnson, though neither has been tested this season.
Since Mays’s play was caused by a helmet-to-helmet collision, the suspension will most likely be upheld. Despite the unintentional hit, the league’s strict policy to reduce these types of plays will likely mean that Mays will miss the game against Oakland.
"Who knows how much money they’ll take away from me?” Mays said. “When it comes to quarterbacks, they’re definitely going to protect them. I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen to me.”
The Broncos’ defense will be going up against a rushing attack that ranks No. 31 in the NFL, and averages just 62.3 yards per game. Denver ranks No. 13 in rushing yards allowed at an average of 98 per game.