NFL hits Browns safety Ward with fine for blow on Shipley

BEREA, Ohio -- T.J. Ward's "cheap shot" was costly.

For delivering a nasty blow to an opponent's head, the NFL belted the Cleveland Browns' rookie safety in the wallet.

Ward, who in just four games as a pro has developed a reputation as a ferocious tackler and fearless talker, was fined $15,000 Wednesday for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley during the fourth quarter of the Browns' win on Sunday.

Ward confirmed he was fined, but he wouldn't divulge the amount. However, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the league assessed Ward the $15,000 penalty for ramming Shipley, who was knocked out briefly and sustained a concussion.

The league will not announce its discipline on Ward until Friday.

A split-second after Shipley failed to catch a pass from Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in the end zone, Ward unloaded on the rookie wideout, sending him sprawling to the turf. Ward claims he led with his right shoulder, but television replays clearly show him making contact with Shipley's helmet.

"I just tried to make a play, and unfortunately, he got hurt," Ward said before practice Wednesday. "It's part of the violent game we play. If you play that position, it kind of comes with the territory."

The Bengals weren't pleased, and following the game, both Palmer and wide receiver Terrell Owens accused Ward of a dirty play.

"I just hate to see a guy get hit like that in the head," Owens said. "For him to take a cheap shot like that, that's uncalled for."

Browns coach Eric Mangini defended Ward, saying it was an aggressive play -- nothing more.

Owens countered with a personal shot at Mangini.

"Look who it's coming from," Owens told Bengals teammate Chad Ochocinco in an interview on VERSUS in advance of the premiere of the "The T.Ocho Show." "Probably 90 percent of his players don't like him (Mangini) anyway. "I don't like him. We got to see him again anyway, so we'll see who's going to do some cheap shots next game.

"Hit me like that."

The Browns visit the Bengals on Dec. 19.

Ward insists he didn't intentionally try to injure Shipley. As he came across the end zone, Ward said he saw the ball and Shipley and acted instinctively.

"It wasn't malicious intent to knock him out or get him hurt," Ward said. "It's part of the game. I reacted to what I saw and tried to make a play. I didn't really try to hit him with everything I had, but still it was a pretty violent hit. I wasn't trying to aim for his helmet in any way.

"I just hit what I saw, it all happened so fast."

It might have been a blur, but with the league determined to clean up unnecessary contact to player's head in the wake of new studies on concussions, Ward might need to closely monitor his future on-field conduct. He might not deserve a head hunter's label or to be cast as a dirty player, but it's likely officials will be aware of Ward's actions as the season progresses.

Undersized at 5-foot-10, Ward made Oregon's team as a walk-on. He wound up playing 37 games for the Ducks, catching the eye of pro scouts because of his ability to punish running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks. He never backed off, and he has no plans to stop playing the only way he knows.

Ward was aware that Mike Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating, said in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the league should fine the 23-year-old a minimum of $25,000 for a hit he described as "one of the worst I've seen in a while."

The Browns haven't had a defensive back who could hit like Ward since safety Eric Turner in the 1990s. Mangini wants his team to be physical, and from experience, he knows that having a safety who can deliver knee-buckling hits can make receivers wary of coming over the middle.

"Legally, you want guys to think, 'OK, if I catch this in cut, there's going to be a price to pay for catching this,'" Mangini said. "If you can establish that, then sometimes guys will get alligator arms or they won't run those angles quite as deep or as tight.

"No one would ever admit, 'Man, I don't really want to go in there.' If you can get an understanding with receivers, it helps."

Not surprisingly, the Browns didn't have any issues with Ward's big hit. If anyone of them had a right to be upset, it's rookie quarterback Colt McCoy. Shipley was McCoy's teammate at Texas and the best man at his wedding. But even he didn't believe Ward's hit was beyond reason.

"It's a violent sport," McCoy said. "We all know that there's gonna be contact. Nobody ever wants to get hurt, and nobody ever wants to hurt anybody. It was a good hit. Jordan knows. He's played receiver his whole life. There's a chance that when you go across the middle, that you're gonna have to take a big shot, a big lick, and he got one."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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