Vontaze Burfict Comments on Playing Style, Hit on Antonio Brown in Playoffs

Daniel KramerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2016

Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Vontaze Burfict has a reputation as one of the league's hardest-hitting linebackers, but the Cincinnati Bengals defender's aggressive style led to a three-game suspension to start the 2016 season.

Burfict speared Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the head during the AFC Wild Card Round, drawing a 15-yard penalty that helped position the Steelers for a go-ahead field goal in their 18-16 victory.

Burfict was widely criticized for what many called a "cheap shot" and received the three-game suspension two days later.

In an interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson on Monday, Burfict acknowledged he needs to change his style of play but said he believes his reputation preceded him when he was penalized for hitting Brown.

"I play hard. Sometimes it gets me in trouble," Burfict said. "My style of play is aggressive, and [the game has] changed, and I have to change with it, and that play right there, I think if I wasn't No. 55, I wouldn't have got flagged."

New Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett echoed that sentiment, per Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.

"There's a target on him or whatever you want to say. People are watching him," Haslett said. "If he just plays the game like he plays and doesn't worry about the rest of it, he'll be fine because he's a heck of a player, and he makes a lot of plays."

Burfict's hit on Brown was the last straw in a litany of nasty hits, as the NFL cited "repeated violations of safety-related playing rules" when it handed out the suspension, per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com.

The Pro Bowler asked for and received a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Feb. 11 "to discuss his behavior and what to do going forward," per Dan Graziano of ESPN.com.

Brown called Burfict an "idiot" during a Feb. 4 interview on The Dan Patrick Show and said his actions—and those of Adam Jones, who was also flagged—cost Cincinnati a victory. The 30 yards in penalties came with 22 seconds remaining and Pittsburgh out of field-goal range.

The Bengals defense was a huge catalyst in the team's fifth straight run to the playoffs in 2015. Cincinnati will face an uphill battle early next season, but at least Burfict recognizes he needs to stop putting his team in compromising situations.