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Carolina Panthers’ Mike Mitchell says NFL is targeting him for fines

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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell (21) celebrates his hit on St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford as Bradford scrambled toward the sideline during fourth quarter action on Oct. 20 at Bank of America Stadium. Mitchell got a taunting penalty for his actions in the Rams game, which he says he will appeal.

A few days after the NFL fined him a fifth time, Mike Mitchell said he believes the league is targeting him and directed a few pointed words at commissioner Roger Goodell.

A sixth fine – for his comments Monday – might be forthcoming for the Panthers’ physical and outspoken free safety.

Mitchell was one of five St. Louis and Carolina players fined for their roles in the fights and shoving matches during the second half of the Panthers’ 30-15 victory on Oct. 20.

Mitchell, a former Oakland Raiders player in his first year with the Panthers, was docked $7,875 for taunting after a fourth-quarter hit on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who sustained a season-ending knee injury on the play. Mitchell celebrated in front of the St. Louis bench, but said he didn’t realize Bradford had been injured.

Mitchell wasn’t surprised when the FedEx envelope arrived from the league office last week.

“Roger being Roger, I guess,” Mitchell said. “To be honest, I think there is a little bit of a targeting system they have out. And I think I’m one of the guys they’ve been looking for, but I’m OK with that. The coaches and my teammates know who I am, know the type of player I am.”

Mitchell said his five fines this year have totaled close to $45,000 – money that has gone “right in Roger’s pocket,” he said.

And Mitchell doesn’t believe the latest fine will be his last.

“There’s going to be (more). We have nine games left, and I’m not going to change the way that I play,” Mitchell said. “I’m not getting penalties. I’m not playing dirty. I’m not hitting anyone to the head. If you want to fine me on these little judgmental things, keep them coming. It’s a write-off.”

Mitchell, the Raiders’ second-round pick in 2009 from Ohio University, said he’s been fined more than 10 times during his career.

Mitchell’s arrival in the league coincided with the implementation of a rule prohibiting defenders from striking a “defenseless receiver” in the head – fouls Goodell pledged to crack down on the following year following a spate of vicious hits during a single weekend.

Mitchell believes players with reputations as big hitters are being singled out, saying he’s been fined every year he’s been in the NFL.

“I’m just being targeted because I play football and I’m physical. I’m not out here cheap-shotting guys or doing dirty plays like you’ve seen people from Detroit do,” said Mitchell, referring to oft-fined Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

“I’m not doing those things. So why I’m getting fined I really have no idea,” Mitchell added. “But I’m going to keep playing my game. It’s working for our defense and our team.”

Mitchell missed the opener against Seattle with a calf injury and didn’t become a starter until Week 3, following a season-ending Achilles injury to Charles Godfrey. He’s the only player in the league with at least three interceptions and two sacks, and has helped bring a swagger to the Panthers’ third-ranked defense.

“He’s a presence back there in the secondary. And you know those guys. When you’re on offense prepping for teams like that, you take notice of guys like that,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. “He’s back there lurking, and he’s looking to make those big hits. But I think also, what people don’t realize, is he’s good in coverage.”

Olsen also praised the tackling ability of Mitchell, whose 28 solo stops rank third on the team behind linebackers Thomas Davis (35) and Luke Kuechly (32).

Godfrey believes Mitchell plays with a “controlled violence,” but said “he has to play a little bit smarter on some of those plays.”

Since picking up a personal foul penalty against Baltimore in the preseason, Mitchell said he’s tried to slow down when approaching a ball-carrier on his way to the ground.

He’s only been penalized once during the regular season – an unnecessary roughness call for hitting Arizona running back Andre Ellington near the sideline in Week 5. He was not fined for the hit.

“I’ve definitely cut down on the personal foul penalties. As long as I’m not getting flags that are hurting the team,” Mitchell said. “You’re going to fine me for something that’s not getting flagged, that’s their judgment.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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