ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP)The Denver Broncos are pleased Kareem Jackson’s four-game suspension was cut in half, but some of his teammates still contend the NFL is making an example out of the hard-hitting safety by punishing what was actually a clean hit though it looked much worse on the field.

Coach Sean Payton argued Jackson’s case via Zoom on Tuesday with hearing officer Derrick Brooks, who issued the two-game reduction. Safety Justin Simmons gave a spirited, nearly five-minute defense of his teammate after practice Wednesday.

Simmons suggested Jackson’s hit on Green Bay tight end Luke Musgrave was actually a legal shoulder-to-shoulder strike that appeared on the field to be a helmet-to-helmet hit. It resulted in a 15-yard penalty, his second disqualification of the season and the suspension without pay that will cost him about $279,000 in lost wages.

Jackson is also expected to be fined a fifth time this season for violations of the league’s unnecessary roughness rules. His first four fines have totaled nearly $90,000.

The bottom line, quarterback Russell Wilson said, is the Broncos (2-5) will miss their hard-hitting safety Sunday when they host the Kansas City Chiefs (6-1), who have won the last 16 games between the AFC West foes.

Jackson will also miss the Broncos’ game at Buffalo following their bye next week before returning to the team on Nov. 14.

“K-Jack has been one of the best players in this league. The guy has played 14 years. He knows how to play the right way,” Wilson said. “It’s unfortunate for our football team because he’s such a leader. And I thought he hit with his shoulder that time and I know the other hits were maybe a little (over the top), but I think that one was a good football hit.

“I’ve seen a lot of good football hits and that was one of them,” Wilson added. “We’re definitely going to miss him.”

Before taking any questions at the podium, Simmons read from a checklist of items he wanted to address regarding Jackson’s suspension for what he called a hit that “was very clean.”

Simmons said NFL players are some of the world’s greatest athletes, but it’s impossible once a defender commits to a strike zone to adjust in milliseconds when the ballcarrier slips or ducks at the last moment.

“Now, I’m not saying the rule itself is bad because I love the fact that we’re implementing things league-wide that are helping us, that are going to help us after our careers, to stay healthy, be healthy and protect our brains,” Simmons said. “So I agree with the neck or head areas” being off-limits.

“But when the hit is applied to your shoulder, I don’t think that falls into the spectrum, and I think he’s being victimized for the past couple of weeks,” Simmons added.

He complained about what he called a lack of clarity and direction from the league regarding its stringent safety rules, noting a defensive back’s role in particular is to either pick off the pass or separate the ball from the receiver.

“If we’re not supposed to do this, then please explain how it’s supposed to be done,” Simmons said.

Also, Simmons took issue with the letter Jon Runyan, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, wrote to Jackson in issuing the original suspension. In it, Runyan noted Jackson’s multiple offenses for personal fouls for violating player safety-related rules this season and accused Jackson of deliberately violating the rules.

“On the play in question, you delivered a forceful blow to the head/neck area of a defenseless receiver, when you had the time and space to avoid such contact. You could have made contact with your opponent within the rules, yet you chose not to,” Runyan wrote.

Simmons said that “in so many words,” Runyan was “calling him a dirty player.”

“That just bothers me as a teammate,” Simmons said, adding, “I wouldn’t be half the player I am if it wasn’t for Kareem and the knowledge both on and off the field that he’s bestowed on me. And never at any point in time when I’m watching the tape of him or when I’m watching tape with him has he ever come across as anything close to being a dirty player.”

Jackson’s second ejection this season came just 24 hours after the league announced he had been fined $43,709 for an unflagged hit on Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco in Week 6, his fourth fine this season.

Jackson also was ejected from Denver’s loss to Washington in Week 2 after he was flagged for an illegal hit on Commanders tight end Logan Thomas. That came a week after Jackson’s illegal hit on Raiders receiver Jakobi Meyers.

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