By FRED GOODALL, Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay's Dashon Goldson is proud of his reputation as a hard-hitting safety, but concedes it bothers him that there's a growing perception that he's a dirty player.
"I'm an aggressive player, we all know that. My intention is to never to go out and hurt anybody," the seventh-year pro said Wednesday after the NFL reduced his one-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints running back Darren Sproles to a $100,000 fine.
"I try to keep my hits within the rules. That's what I'm going to do week in and week out," Goldson added. "I'm going to try to get guys on the ground. But at the same time, I've got to be careful."
The decision by Matt Birk, who handles appeals of discipline of on-field punishment for players for the league and NFL Players Association, allows Goldson to practice this week and play Sunday at New England.
"The appeal went OK. I sat there and had a good argument, I felt," said Goldson, who suspended one game without pay Monday for flagrant and repeat violations of NFL safety rules prohibiting hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players.
"I explained my side, and they went and explained the rules. We met halfway on the deal pretty much," the two-time Pro Bowl selection said. "The good thing is I'm not suspended. I get to play this week, which was the most important thing."
Goldson was flagged for unnecessary roughness in last week's game against New Orleans for the hit, one of three helmet-to-helmet penalties called against the Buccaneers.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn was called for a head shot on quarterback Drew Brees, and safety Ahmad Black drew a penalty for hitting tight end Jimmy Graham in the helmet.
The unnecessary roughness call on Goldson for hitting Sproles was the second against the safety in two weeks, and his fifth overall since 2011.
"He's had a lot of those. He certainly has no regard for the rules in the middle. He's going after guys' heads. You can see it," Brees said. "Obviously, $100,000 is a pretty hefty fine. And Im sure if it continues to happen it'll be even greater punishment than that."
Brees also was critical of Black's hit on Graham, which came on an incompletion.
"I know it's tough playing the safety position in the middle. Things happen fast," Brees said. "But then again, there's some instances where you can see it was pretty obvious a guy was going at another guy's head. And that happened on at least two occasions in our game."
Since the start of the 2010 season, Goldson has drawn a league-high 15 major penalties, including three for unsportsmanlike conduct. Birk upheld a $30,000 fine for another Goldson hit two weeks ago against New York Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland.
"I've got to take my shots when they present themselves, but they've got to be clean. No launching, of course. No hats on hats, making sure I get the guy down and do it properly," Goldson said.
"I know there's going to be a lot of eyes on me from now on. And that's ok," he added. "I've just got to be smart. I'm not trying to hurt our team. I'm definitely not trying to hurt myself or another player."
Commissioner Roger Goodell said he had not yet seen Birk's decision, but noted that Goldson received a "substantial fine" that shows "a violation of the rule has consequences."
"Players are adapting to the rules and techniques," Goodell said, adding "the culture doesn't change overnight."
Goldson was an All-Pro last season with San Francisco, helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl. He joined Tampa Bay as a free agent, signing a five-year, $41.25 million contract.
If the seventh-year pro's suspension had been upheld it would have cost Goldson $264,705 in salary.
Coach Greg Schiano welcomed the news that Goldson would be able to play Sunday.
"Dashon's become a big part of our defense, obviously. It's great that we have him back. We're fortunate," the coach said, adding the coaching staff will continue to work with players and make sure they adhere to the rules.
"I don't want to be in this position. I know he doesn't want to be in this position," Schiano said. "It's something we've got to work very hard on. ... We've got to get it corrected because we can't afford to lose him, and we want to play the game within the rules."
The Bucs have committed a league-high 23 penalties for 220 yards in two games. They've been flagged for six personal fouls — five for helmet-to-helmet contact and the other for a late hit on Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
Goldson said he will remain aggressive, adding that he made a name for himself in the NFL with a good, clean hard play.
"It's just unfortunate these last two weeks that I'm a dirty player all of a sudden," Goldson said. "It is what it is. I'm going to continue to do me, but just be smart at the same time."
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this story.
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