- Tania Ganguli, ESPN Staff Writer
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DENVER -- The target of Peyton Manning's taunting penalty was perhaps the least surprising thing about Saturday night's game.
"I get a lot of people mad at me," Texans safety D.J. Swearinger said. "That’s how I’ve been all my life. That’s why I am the way I am."
Broncos receiver Wes Welker made a nine-yard catch at the Texans' 38-yard line, halted by a big hit from Swearinger. The safety's shoulder collided with Welker's head, doling another concussion to the receiver, who had two last season. It angered Welker's quarterback, who let Swearinger know immediately.
One play later Manning threw a touchdown pass, then ran over to Swearinger again to offer what Swearinger called "choice words." The quarterback considered the ensuing 15-yard penalty well worth it.
Forget the discussion about that hit in particular, because that is a much broader one to have. Swearinger says he led with his shoulder and that's all he could do. The Broncos thought it was dirty. That's generally how these things go.
But Manning's focus on Swearinger was about more than just one hit.
"The week had something to do with it," Swearinger said. "Practice during the week and the hit had something to do with it."
These teams spent three days facing each other. Swearinger, who as a kid sought to be as smart of a football player as Manning, made sure Manning felt his presence with his words and his play. He picked off Manning in a drill on Wednesday, and shortly thereafter a mild fracas ensued.
"He's been a competitor all week at practice," Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We've been competing against him, and sometimes he lets his attitude get the most of him."
That attitude is something Swearinger considers an asset. It certainly can be. He uses it to rattle opponents; he wants them to be thinking about him rather than about what they're supposed to be doing.
That's where the tricky part comes.
Swearinger's edge makes him a better football player -- safeties have to be a little nuts sometimes -- and often a really fun one to watch. But that edge and enthusiasm can get him in trouble with the way game are officiated. He's been flagged for penalties enough to know that and has said he's working on figuring out ways to keep his swagger, only hidden from officials.
Will it work? Is it even possible? That's a major challenge for his career.