CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski was fined $20,000 by the NFL on Wednesday for a hit that broke the jaw of Carolina Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins.
The league issued a statement from its New York offices early in the evening that said Romanowski was being cited for "ramming Collins in the neck, chin and face area with his helmet in a manner that has been a point of emphasis by officials and prohibited since the beginning of the 1995 season."
Collins was standing in the pocket in the second quarter of Saturday night's exhibition game and had just released a pass when he took a hard shot to the bottom of his face mask from Romanowski, who had come charging in from Collins' left side.
Tests showed one fracture on the left side of Collins' jaw and another one at the front. On Sunday, surgeons inserted two plates to stabilize each fracture, and Collins was kept in a Charlotte hospital until Tuesday. He is expected to be sidelined for up to six weeks.
No flag was thrown on the play, but the NFL launched a review of the hit this week without even waiting for the Panthers to file a complaint. The league said it was conducting the review because of its concern about helmet-to-helmet hits on quarterbacks when they are in the pocket and looking to pass.
"I think it was a textbook shot of why they have the rule," Panthers coach Dom Capers said. "I've been a defensive coach my whole life, and there's times that I've looked at these things and wondered about them. But we have the rule. The competition committee has voted on it. The rule is in. There's reasons why you have every rule."
Romanowski, who faced a minimum fine of $10,000, could not be immediately reached for comment after the NFL's ruling. But he said following the game that he was merely doing his job by rushing the quarterback and trying to prevent him from throwing the pass.
"It was very unfortunate that he got hurt," Romanowski said Saturday night. "It wasn't my intention to hurt him, but that's the way the game goes."
This is not the first time a linebacker has been sanctioned for hitting a quarterback in the head in the pocket. On Nov. 3, 1994, the NFL fined James Francis of the Cincinnati Bengals $12,500 for a late hit on Troy Aikman in the previous week's game. He hit Aikman between the shoulder pads and the jaw, drawing a penalty flag.
It also is the second time in less than a year that a hit on Collins, who in 1995 became the Panthers' first-ever draft choice, resulted in punishment by the NFL.
Atlanta defensive end Chuck Smith was fined $25,000 last November for lunging at Collins' knees from behind. Collins had to leave the game with what was diagnosed as a sprained ligament in his left knee, but he was able to play the next week.
Steve Beuerlein, who is replacing Collins in the Panthers' lineup, said the willingness of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Collins to stand in the pocket is a contributing factor to the injuries.
"He's the kind of quarterback who's going to take a lot of hits because of his style," Beuerlein said. "Aikman is that way. Aikman stands in that pocket and holds the ball and waits until the last second to deliver it a lot of times. I think the bigger and stronger you are, it helps you with that style. It's an attribute. It helps you be able to handle it a little bit better.
"He's going to take a lot more shots in his career - but hopefully nothing as severe as this one."