Vontaze Burfict Suspended for Violations of Safety Rules: Details, Reaction

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Vontaze Burfict Suspended for Violations of Safety Rules: Details, Reaction
Gary Landers/Associated Press

The NFL has suspended Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict three games after his hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in their Wild Card Round matchup Saturday.

The league announced Burfict's suspension Monday. It will span the first three contests of the 2016 season. The league cited "repeated violations of safety-related playing rules" when handing down the penalty. 

Burfict will appeal the suspension, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. 

ESPN's Coley Harvey reported Burfict wants to travel to NFL headquarters in New York to have a meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell. 

Burfict went high and hit Brown's head on an incomplete pass late in the fourth quarter. Brown suffered a concussion on the play, and Burfict received a personal-foul penalty that altered the game's landscape. As trainers and Steelers coaches tended to Brown, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones drew another 15-yard personal-foul penalty that put Pittsburgh in field-goal range.

Chris Boswell then hit a 35-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 18-16 win.

"He's trying to go over and defend the play," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said after the game, per Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "There were a lot of plays out there and calls went different ways. They deemed that to be a hit to the head I guess, and others not today."

Opinions within the Steelers locker room were fractured. Per Owczarski, safety Mike Mitchell offered a warning, saying Burfict would "get his." Linebacker James Harrison, who has his own history of drawing penalty flags for big hits, was a little more understanding.

"By rule as they told me when I went down to New York that is a penalty. Personally, I don't think it is because I don't think you can get out of the way fast enough," Harrison said on NFL Network following the game, per Will Brinson of CBS Sports.

Bob Holtzman of ESPN reported Monday that Brown is "not looking good" to play for the Steelers in this Sunday's divisional round game against the Denver Broncos.

For a hit he delivered in Week 17 on Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams, Burfict was also disciplined Monday to the tune of a $50,000 fine, per the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiac.

More than anything, Burfict's history of ugly hits drew the NFL's attention.

He was already fined for an illegal hit during a regular-season matchup against the Steelers; it was his third straight season drawing a fine from the league office. With player-safety awareness at an all-time high—particularly regarding concussions—the NFL understandably wanted to send a message here.

Burfict's absence is bound to loom large at the dawn of 2016. Not only will the Bengals face enormous pressure to meet high expectations as they embark on a quest to reverse a trend of five straight one-and-done postseason appearances, but a number of their big-name defensive players are set to become free agents.

Vincent Rey would be Burfict's logical stand in, but he's due to hit the open market, as is outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. Cincinnati will also see cornerbacks Adam Jones and Leon Hall become free agents, along with free safety Reggie Nelson.

While the incentive will be high for all involved to return, particularly with a potential Week 1 starting spot on the line for Rey and Lamur, there is considerable uncertainty besetting the Bengals on top of their latest crushing playoff loss.

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