TAMPA — When Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson appealed the one-game suspension he received Monday for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints running back Darren Sproles on Sunday, he wasn’t just seeking a repeal of his punishment.
He was seeking to restore his reputation.
After being penalized and fined for helmet-to-helmet hits in each of the Bucs’ first two games this season, Goldson made the jump from physically aggressive to dirty in the eyes of some. That rap, he said, is inaccurate.
Perhaps the NFL agrees.
Former six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, the appeal hearing’s officer, revoked Goldson’s suspension on Wednesday and instead assessed the two-time Pro Bowler a $100,000 fine.
The ruling allowed Goldson to immediately return to practice with the team and it means he will be with the Bucs when they take on the New England Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
“I wasn’t surprised,’’ Goldson said of the ruling. “I had a good argument, explaining my side of it. And they explained the rules and everything and we pretty much met halfway on the deal.
“I’m an aggressive player. We all know that around the league. But I’ve never tried to hurt anybody. I try to keep my hits within the rules. That’s what I do week-in and week-out. I’m not a dirty player.’’
That’s not how Saints quarterback Drew Brees sees it. Brees told reporters in New Orleans on Wednesday that Goldson’s history suggests he’s often looking to do more than just make a good tackle.
“He’s had a lot of those,’’ Brees said of helmet-to-helmet hits. “He certainly has no regard for the rules in the middle. He’s going after guys’ heads. You can see it.’’
Goldson has been penalized a league-leading 15 times for personal fouls since the start of the 2010 season, but a closer look at his most recent violations supports his claim he’s not a dirty headhunter.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Goldson has been flagged 10 times for personal fouls. Of those, three were for helmet-to-helmet hits and one was for a hit on what the league ruled was a “defenseless player.’’
Of the others, two were for engaging in shoving matches after the whistle had blown, one was for removing his helmet, one was for taunting, one was for a shoulder-to-chest hit and one was for hitting a sliding quarterback.
As the league concentrates on player safety, Goldson’s style of play is one that is becoming more difficult to maintain. Even among some of the game’s stars, though, it is a style that’s revered.
“I love his style of play and how he plays the position,’’ Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday. “He’s everything a safety should be. He’s physical, he covers when he needs to, he plays well in space, he’s a great tackler.
“He really brings an attitude to the whole defense. He’s a great player and I don’t think he’s dirty at all. He plays the game the way we learned to play it growing up as kids. He’s an incredible player.
“You don’t want throw a bunch of balls in the middle of the field against him because he’ll make the play and there are usually a lot of big hits because he attacks the ball so aggressively.’’
That attacking style is what earned Goldson his latest punishment. The league said in its original ruling that he made no attempt to tackle Sproles but chose instead to deliver an unnecessary hit in which he made helmet-to-helmet contact.
Goldson argued that claim during his hearing, saying the helmet-to-helmet contact was not intentional and was largely a result of Sproles attempting to protect himself from Goldson’s hit.
“I expressed that I was already in motion and I hit him at the last minute,’’ Goldson said. “He’d started to go down to get out of the way of the hit and I kind of missed the target.’’
Goldson has no plans to alter his physical approach to game. He does, however, agree that he must do a better job of playing within the rules the league is adopting in its effort to protect all players.
“I have to take my shots when they present themselves, but I have to do it clean,’’ he said. “No launching of course and no hats on hats. I just make sure I get the body down on the ground and do it properly.
“I know there are going to be a lot of eyes on me from now on. And that’s OK. I just have to be smart. I’m not trying to hurt my team and I’m definitely not trying to hurt anybody else with the way I play.’’